Dayton throws a wrench into Billikens’ party plans

Jordair Jett and the Billikens are trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

Scott Kane/AP

ST. LOUIS — The news was met with little to no fanfare.

Dwayne Evans found out from his father before the postgame ceremony honoring the five Saint Louis University seniors Wednesday night at Chaifetz Arena.

Billikens coach Jim Crews wouldn’t find out until later, just seconds before walking into his postgame press conference.

SLU clinched a share of its second straight Atlantic 10 Conference championship Wednesday night, by virtue of George Washington’s win over Saint Joseph’s, but there would be no celebration.

Instead, following the Billikens’ 72-67 loss to Dayton, there would be more questions about what has gone wrong in the past six days, a span in which their gaudy 19-game win streak was replaced with a confounding three-game losing streak.

"Not the way we wanted to get to that point," said Evans, who had 18 points and nine rebounds, on winning another A-10 title. "We just didn’t play well enough to win, but I guess that’s good going forward."

That wasn’t something Crews discussed with the team after the game. When he met with the media, he wasn’t even sure his team knew about it.

"I just heard that George Washington beat Saint Joe, so these guys have won back-to-back championships," Crews said. "It’s hard to win a game, more less a championship, so I couldn’t be more proud of these guys with it. And we’re looking forward to the game at UMass.

"It’s a tough league. It’s a good league. That’s what makes it fun. You have to play well and you have to be fortunate, and we didn’t quite get it done today with that. But I like our team."

In the losses to Duquesne last Thursday and at VCU on Saturday, it was easy to pinpoint what went wrong for the 17th-ranked Billikens (25-5 overall, 12-3 in the A-10), with turnovers, failing to block out on the defensive boards and missed layups among the primary issues.

SLU did better in those areas Wednesday night and still lost.

"We didn’t make shots," Evans said. "We had some key turnovers. Personally, I had a couple that were inexcusable. I don’t know. They played well, obviously. They are a really good team. But we just didn’t make plays when we needed to."

The Billikens turned the ball over nine times in the second half and also struggled from the free-throw line, missing 7 of 15 attempts in the final 20 minutes.

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But they still controlled the game for much of the night until a big Dayton surge in the final minutes.

The Flyers (21-9, 9-6) snatched control of the game with a 16-2 run and took a nine-point lead, their largest of the game, with just 3:36 remaining.

Saint Louis battled back from that point and cut the Dayton lead to one, 68-67, with 33 seconds left on a basket from Evans inside.

"I thought we got a little momentum," Mike McCall Jr. said. "Guys were doing what they were supposed to be doing on the defensive end. The offense was moving the ball. We were playing together."

But that’s as close as the Billikens would get. SLU did not score again.

Some of the crowd stayed for the subdued postgame ceremony to honor SLU’s five seniors: Evans, McCall, Jordair Jett, Rob Loe and Jake Barnett. Crews spoke to the crowd and said the late Rick Majerus, who recruited the five seniors, would be proud of them. Then Evans spoke for the team and promised more wins to come.

But not winning on this particular night led to more questions about what went wrong and how this team can rebound from it.

Crews was asked if the losing streak would affect his team’s psyche, a good question considering how the tables have turned in just six days.

"I’m not Dr. Phil, Dr. Ruth, any of those doctors, so I don’t know," Crews said. "I don’t know. We don’t dwell on that. We do the same thing if we win or lose. We try to clean it up, we work on our fundamentals and we move forward. That’s how we deal with it. We don’t have big, emotional pity parties or celebrations."

There was a celebration for the careers of SLU’s five seniors, but it wasn’t the kind of celebration the Billikens wanted.