Billikens have been focusing on the details in practices following losses
ST. LOUIS — These past few days have been a time for reflection for the Saint Louis University basketball team.
The Billikens’ 19-game win streak is gone, replaced by a two-game losing streak after setbacks against Duquesne and VCU.
Their No. 10 national ranking … poof. They are now ranked 17th.
Everything was going right for Saint Louis just one week ago. Now the Billikens are facing questions about issues that had been plaguing them at times for a while but, in the last two games, had come to the forefront.
"It’s a struggle," Mike McCall Jr. says. "It’s been bothering us for a while, for the last couple of days. Especially after losing to VCU. We were in the locker room talking to each other and saying what we need to do to get better in order to stop this losing streak and stuff like that. We’ve been working hard in practice, and I think we’ll be ready for Dayton."
Needing one victory in their two remaining games or a loss by Saint Joseph’s to clinch a share of its second straight Atlantic 10 Conference championship, SLU (25-4 overall, 12-2 in the A-10) hosts Dayton (20-9, 8-6) in the final home game of the season on Wednesday night.
The team’s five seniors — McCall, Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett, Rob Loe and Jake Barnett — will be honored after the game. But the tone of that celebration might depend on whether SLU can get back to doing the little things that helped it win 19 in a row.
"We just weren’t really playing how we usually play," Evans says.
Turnovers, missed layups and not boxing out on rebounds have all hurt.
SLU had 16 turnovers in the loss to Duquesne. The Dukes turned those miscues into 16 points, including 14 in the second half, when they outscored the Billikens 46-35.
Against VCU, the Billikens turned the ball over 17 times, allowed 16 offensive rebounds, had 10 shots blocked and, during one scoreless stretch late in the first half, missed five layups among seven consecutive missed shots that allowed the Rams to pull away. SLU never recovered.
"We feel like we should have won Duquesne and VCU," McCall says. "I mean no disrespect to them — they are very good teams — but we feel like we should have won those games. But in the last two games we had problems rebounding and turning the ball over was a big problem for us, and that’s something we’ve been working on a lot at practice."
Practices on Monday and Tuesday served as a time to refocus.
McCall says coach Jim Crews talked to the players about the missed layups, turnovers and not blocking out.
"Those are the little things that win ballgames, just as much as free throws win games," McCall says. "Coach, he’s been really irritated about it. That’s something we have to fix."
The good news is that the Billikens’ blunders should be correctable.
"The game is not a perfect game," Crews says. "I’ve said that 100 times. So there are always things you try to clean up. I think our guys have beat every human nature thing because it’s easy to get amnesia on your mistakes when you win a game. Well, they won whatever it was — a lot of games in a row — and they’ve won a lot of games all year so they haven’t gotten too much amnesia. But at the same time you have to keep looking at yourself and evaluating yourself, individually and as a team, to get better. So we’ve done that since Saturday and Thursday and the Saturday before."
The Billikens were far from perfect during their win streak, which stretched 88 days without a loss dating to Dec. 1 against Wichita State. They had several close calls along the way, including twice needing overtime to beat George Mason.
The losses to Duquesne and VCU have certainly served as a wakeup call.
"It just goes to show that we can lose," Barnett says. "We’re not immune to it. We’ve had a lot of close games. We have a lot of things that we can fix to get better, to be honest. We have a good record or whatever, but that doesn’t matter unless we prove it. So we came back to practice and took a hard look at ourselves, which losing I think causes you to do.
"There’s a lot of things we need to fix. It’s also good news, because we could get a lot better. So, hopefully, we can fix those things up because we’re going into the time of the season right now where it’s win or go home, so we need to shore those things up heading into the tournament."
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