Billikens cap 100th anniversary party by torching Duquesne for first A-10 win

Mike Crawford was one of five Billikens to finish in double figures against Duquesne. 

Bill Barrett

ST. LOUIS — On a night the Saint Louis Billikens celebrated the 100th-year anniversary of their first game, they had a performance for the ages.

Their 78-69 victory over Duquesne at Chaifetz Arena on Wednesday night was notable mostly because it gave SLU its first Atlantic 10 Conference victory after three losses, the most recent a 35-point beatdown at Davidson on Saturday.

But what made the performance unique was how the Billikens (9-8) scored their points. They accomplished numerous feats on offense they had not managed all season, and likely had not been done too often by any SLU team in its first century.

Start with this: The Billikens registered 21 assists on their first 22 baskets, and finished with a season-high 22 assists on 25 baskets against the Dukes’ zone defense. "That’s incredible," coach Jim Crews said. No kidding, especially when you realize SLU has recorded more turnovers than assists in nine games. Seven players dished out at least two, with Milik Yarbrough leading the team with five.

There also was this: SLU made nine 3-pointers in the first half, a total it had managed in an entire game only twice all season. Yacoubou hit one to open the scoring and another at the buzzer to complete a 42-point first half and give the Billikens a 13-point lead. And he wasn’t even SLU’s hottest shooter in the first 20 minutes. That would have been freshman guard Marcus Bartley, who missed his first attempt by three feet but then made four in a row, including a couple from NBA range.

And there was this: Five Billikens scored in double figures for the first time this season and none of them was Austin McBroom. The 5-foot-9 junior entered as the team’s second-leading scorer but played only eight minutes. (Crews said he wanted to go with more length.)

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Yacoubou led the scoring with a career-best 18 points and was followed by Mike Crawford with 14, including three buckets on nifty reverse layups in the half-court offense. Bartley finished with his halftime total, 13, as he played sparingly after the intermission. Yarbrough added 11 for his sixth consecutive game in double figures and another freshman, Davell Roby, chipped in 10.    

After attempting 19 3-pointers in the first half, the Billikens turned their focus inside in the second half and their passing clicked better than it has all season. While this might have been a result of facing a team picked in the preseason to finish last in the conference, it also could have had something to do with a young squad growing up.

"We’re getting more comfortable with each other and that’s a big part of it," Yacoubou said. "Even those games we lost, it was learning experiences. The more we play, the more we listen to coach, the more we practice hard, we’ll keep getting better."

Crews was pleased that despite their hot 3-point shooting in the first half, the Billikens did not fall into a trap of firing away some more in the second half. Instead, the Billikens beat the zone by passing into the key and having players cut to the basket for open layups.

"We shot the ball well, but I think the reason we shot the ball well is we fell into some good shots because of good ball movement and good player movement," Crews said. "That always helps shooting."

The Dukes’ shooting was not so good. Their starting guards came in shooting 47.7 percent on 3-pointers but managed to make only three of nine. That effort, however, was sizzling compared to Duquesne’s free-throw shooting.

Make that foul shooting. Including a one for 10 from Dominique McKoy, Duquesne went a dreadful 13 for 34 (38.2 percent) on free throws.

Now that was something you won’t see often in the next 100 years.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.