No. 24 Billikens top Bonnies in typical grind-it-out fashion

Dwayne Evans' 18 points and 6 rebounds helped the Billikens extend their winning streak to 10 games.

Jasen Vinlove/Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS — The No. 24 Saint Louis Billikens say that making the Top 25 is no big deal. And they certainly didn’t let their being ranked for the first time this season change the way they play.

In their 66-60 victory over St. Bonaventure Wednesday night at Chaifetz Arena, SLU played its usual overpowering defense, was typically tough on the boards and shot, well, let’s just say the Billikens shot as well as they had to.

Just another night at the office, in other words.

The Billikens’ style might not make for the prettiest basketball to watch but they’re not about to apologize. Nor should they. They’re off to a 3-0 start in the Atlantic 10, are 16-2 overall, 6-0 on the road and have run off 10 straight victories.

"I knew it would be a knock-down, drag-out possession game, with not much rhythm," SLU coach Jim Crews said.

Crews offered his analysis in praise of the Bonnies, who matched the Billikens’ rough-and-tough brand of ball. But really, he could say the same about virtually all of his team’s games.

The Bonnies certainly knew what they were in for.

"They’re a tough, resilient bunch. We knew we would have to match their physicality and intensity on defense," said St. Bonaventure senior guard Matthew Wright. "That’s their staple. That’s what they hang their hat on."

SLU wasted no time turning on the D. The Bonnies hit a 3-pointer with their first shot but then missed five of their next seven. The 3 and a free throw was all they could manage over the game’s first seven minutes. Still, they hung in the game because of their own defense.

If not for senior forward Dwayne Evans, the Billikens would have been in bigger trouble. Evans hit five of seven shots while his teammates combined to make 6 of 27 in the first half. They picked it up after the intermission from the field, shooting 12 for 19, but poor free-throw shooting kept them from taking control. The Billikens missed seven of nine free throws in the final five minutes, and finished 16 for 30.

"That wasn’t very good, was it," Crews said.

Neither were their 11 turnovers in the second half, several of them unforced. "We got casual for a couple of minutes in the second half," Evans said. "We can’t have lapses like that against good teams."

With a 1-2 conference record and 11-6 overall, St. Bonaventure qualifies more as a decent team than a good team. But the Bonnies know about playing good teams. They led No. 16 Massachusetts by 13 points in the second half and by six with 2:56 left last Saturday but could not hang on for the upset. St. Bonaventure never led SLU by more than a bucket and never trailed by more than nine.

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Consecutive games against the Atlantic 10 leaders put the Bonnies in a good position to compare.

"They’re completely different in styles," Wright said. "UMass is a very offensive-oriented team and they rely heavily on one player (Chaz Williams) who runs the team. Saint Louis is much more balanced, a defensive-oriented team, more reserved with a half-court offense and half-court defense."

The Bonnies were looking to beat a Top 25 team for the first time in exactly 14 years, their skid reaching 24 games after coming up short against the newly ranked Billikens.  

"I wouldn’t say there’s much pride to being ranked at all," Evans said. "It’s a cool number next to our name when we play games, that’s really about all it is. We’ve been here before. We know we’re going to have a target on our back even if we weren’t ranked coming off last year. So, it’s really nothing."

It’s certainly doesn’t change the way they play.

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