ST. LOUIS — One of the Saint Louis Billikens’ many freshmen did some considerable growing up Tuesday night.
To which the Billikens should say, thank goodness.
Without the performance of Miles Reynolds, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Chicago, SLU likely would have ended up losing to North Carolina A&T instead of pulling out a 57-54 victory on Tuesday night at Chaifetz Arena. Making his performance even more manly was that Reynolds played the second half with five stitches above his right eye after a collision in the first half.
SLU needed someone to step up. For the first 30 minutes, the Billikens’ shooting was as cold as the frigid air outside. They went without a field goal from the 8:58 mark of the first half until 2:59 into the second half. After Tanner Lancona ended that drought with a drive to the basket, the Billikens went another 7 1/2 minutes before Austin McBroom hit a 3-pointer for their next field goal.
"We really, really, really struggled," SLU coach Jim Crews said in an understatement.
The Billikens could not have played much worse in the first half. They missed 16 of 21 field-goal attempts, committed 11 turnovers, managed only two assists and, not surprisingly, trailed 21-20. An eight-for-eight showing from the free-throw line was about the only positive.
They didn’t fare much better for a long stretch in the second half, and trailed 38-28 with 10:30 to go.
One, they simplified their offense against A&T’s zone defenses. "We just ran one thing," Crews said. "Just be aggressive with it."
Two, Reynolds took over.
He hit a 3-pointer with 9:30 left that cut the lead to seven. He made five free throws in a 50-second span that pulled SLU from a 45-40 deficit into a tie with 3:12 to go. He dished to McBroom in the corner for the go-ahead 3-pointer and then found John Manning inside for an easy two.
Reynolds wasn’t done, either. He grabbed a rebound, was fouled and made another free throw. He also intercepted a pass and went coast to coast for a layup that put SLU up 53-49. Finally, he pulled down another rebound, was fouled again and made two more free throws for the final points.
After totaling 12 points in SLU’s first three games, Reynolds scored a game-high 19, including a 14-of-18 showing on free throws. He also finished with three rebounds, three steals and two assists — and numerous cuts and bruises.
The stitches he took in the first half were the result of a collision with A&T’s Austin Williams that looked like a foul. Officials checked the replay monitor for a flagrant foul but decided it wasn’t even a personal. Reynolds left the game and when he went back in for the second half, he had a bandage above his right eye and a little more bounce in his step. Seems like a head banging brings out his best.
"Last year the same thing happened to me in our city tournament," Reynolds said. "I don’t know what it is with stitches or this big bandage on my head. I feel like every time it happens, I’m in attack mode."
As Reynolds was leading SLU’s second-half charge, he took a hard fall when he was chased down by James Whitaker and slammed into the stanchion while trying to score after intercepting a pass. That was ruled a flagrant, and Reynolds made one free throw and added an assist on the ensuing possession.
After every play, he also provided a fist pump, a scream or both.
"I’m a real emotional player when things are going our way, even when things aren’t going our way," Reynolds said. "Coach tells me every time if I’m not passionate and showing emotion, then I’m coming right back out."
He stayed in this one until the end, and it paid off for the Billikens.