Billikens’ regular-season woes come back to haunt them in Louisville loss
There would be no dramatic comeback for Saint Louis this time.
The Billikens overcame a rough start against fourth-seeded Louisville and led briefly with 14:15 remaining, but the reigning national champion Cardinals were too much for SLU down the stretch and pulled away for a 66-51 victory in Orlando to advance to the Sweet 16.
"We didn’t play particularly well today," Saint Louis coach Jim Crews told reporters. "We knew if we weren’t strong with the ball, that would lead to good things for Louisville, and that certainly played out from that standpoint because we just weren’t good enough with the ball. I think we had 17 or 18 turnovers. And that leads to points for them.
"For the most part, when it was in the halfcourt we did pretty good defensively, and they did, too. We weren’t very good offensively or efficient. Louisville was good defensively halfcourt, we were good defensively halfcourt. But we did turn the ball over too many times and so forth."
It will be the third straight regional semifinal appearance and 20th overall for Louisville (31-5), which will face either No. 1 seed Wichita State or No. 8 seed Kentucky in Indianapolis.
It was also the third consecutive loss in the Round of 32 for Saint Louis (27-7), which has never advanced to the Sweet 16. The Billikens, who rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to beat North Carolina State in their NCAA tourney opener Thursday, lost in the third round to Michigan State in 2012 and Oregon in 2013.
SLU capped its remarkable three-year run with an 81-22 record along with two Atlantic 10 Conference titles. The Billikens’ five senior starters — Jordair Jett, Dwayne Evans, Rob Loe, Mike McCall Jr. and Jake Barnett — finished as the winningest class in school history with 93 victories.
"One game certainly is not going to dictate one thing or another, and I certainly don’t want that to overshadow — it won’t overshadow in our program what these seniors have done," Crews said. "They’ve had an amazing career. They’re the winningest group in Saint Louis history. They won a couple championships, more than a couple, three championships in the last two years, the number of games they’ve won in the last three years, three NCAA Tournaments, which is really hard to get into."
Evans finished Saturday with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Jett added 15 points and seven assists. Loe had 10 points and five rebounds despite picking up his third foul midway through the first half.
Some of the issues that plagued Saint Louis throughout the season, and specifically in losing four of its final six games during its late-season skid, came back to bite the Billikens again Saturday.
— SLU had 11 turnovers in the first half, which contributed to a nine-point halftime deficit, and finished with 18, which tied a season high. Louisville turned those turnovers into 25 points.
— The Billikens made 9 of 16 free-throw attempts (56.3), which was their third-worst shooting performance of the season. They were a season-low 46.2 percent in Thursday’s win against NC State. McCall missed all six of his 3-point attempts against Louisville, while Barnett missed four, Jett missed two and Evans, Loe and Austin McBroom each missed one.
— SLU attempted 20 shots from outside the paint and made just one, a long jumper from Evans in the right corner with 1:39 remaining that looked like it might have been a 3-pointer but wasn’t.
— The Billikens missed all 15 of their 3-point attempts, the most attempts without a make in NCAA Tournament history. The last time SLU didn’t make a single 3-pointer was Jan. 9, 2011, against Temple, when these current seniors were freshmen on a 12-19 team.
"I thought we took a lot of good shots today," Evans said. "They weren’t falling, but we had the right guys in the right spots. I guess you have days like that. Obviously, we would have wanted it another way, but they were good shots."
Oh, where have you gone, Erwin Claggett?
Overall, the Billikens shot 39.6 percent (21-53), their fourth-lowest output this season, with McCall misfiring on 12 of his 14 attempts from the field. SLU lost three of five games this year when it shot under 40 percent. Those losses came against Wichita State (39.6), Louisville (39.6) and Wisconsin (32.8).
It was the kind of shooting performance that makes it nearly mission impossible to win a college basketball game, yet the Billikens still had an opportunity in the second half.
Louisville missed its first 10 shots after halftime and SLU took advantage. Crews’ crew used a 13-2 run to take a 29-27 lead on a layup from Loe with 14:15 left.
But the Billikens would not lead again. Instead, they turned the ball over six times after that and missed 12 of their final 22 field-goal attempts as the defending champion Cardinals pulled away.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.