NEW YORK (AP) — His Saint Louis teammates have a simple explanation for Dwayne Evans’ sophisticated low-post moves: He can’t dunk.
The 6-foot-5 forward has soared while staying close to the ground at the Atlantic 10 tournament, carrying the Billikens to their first title game.
Evans nearly set a career high in points for the second straight day, and No. 16 Saint Louis’ defense locked down Butler in the second half for a 67-56 win Saturday.
“Don’t be fooled,” Evans said after forward Cody Ellis joked about his lack of leaping ability. “It’s just a choice. I like the ground game. I don’t know. I’m going to go out and dunk on them all just to prove you wrong on that one.”
Evans had 24 points and 11 rebounds after going for 25 and nine in the quarterfinals against Charlotte. He’s 15 for 19 from the floor and 18 of 20 from the foul line in the tournament.
Interim coach Jim Crews listed all the reasons he’s so effective. Strength. Broad shoulders. Good touch. No fear of contact.
“Some guys have a feel for where the bucket is,” Crews said. “It sounds stupid because that bucket doesn’t move, but you’ve got to have a sense.”
Coming to New York City is the perfect way for an undersized star and an underappreciated team to recruit some new fans. Top-seeded Saint Louis (26-6) beat the Bulldogs for the third time this season.
Butler, the national runner-up in 2010 and ’11, may be the bigger name, but the Billikens have been the class of the A-10 in 2013.
“I’ve said all year long to the people that have listened — and some that don’t — how good they are,” Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens said. “They are a legitimate contender for the whole thing. I believe that wholeheartedly. They’ve got eight guys that are all strong, big, physical, tough, smart, skilled basketball players, and you don’t need anything else if you’re all together, and they’ve got it all.”
They held Butler without a field goal for almost seven minutes midway through the second half to pull away. Meanwhile, Evans went to work inside, showing off his post moves or getting free throws to put the Bulldogs (26-8) in foul trouble.
“To beat any team three times in one season is an accomplishment. To beat a team like that with the accolades and the guys that they have on their team is really a confidence builder,” Evans said.
Butler was up 24-17 with more than 5 minutes left in the first half, then shot 11 for 37 from the field the rest of the way. Leading scorer Rotnei Clarke had 10 points in the first 11 minutes; he managed only six more.
“Our guys really gear it up because they know, if you relax for a second, you’re going to get drilled by those guys,” Crews said.
Saint Louis will face VCU or UMass on Sunday in its first A-10 final since joining the league in 2005-06.
Leading 42-41 with under 12 minutes remaining, the Billikens slowly began pulling away against the cold-shooting Bulldogs. The run started innocuously enough, when Mike McCall drove the lane and drew a foul.
After a delay, the officials awarded him the basket on a goal-tending call, and he completed the three-point play.
Saint Louis then extended the lead at the foul line as Butler went scoreless for more than five minutes. The Billikens attempted 31 free throws, making 20.
The fifth-seeded Bulldogs would have needed to win four games in four days for a title in their first — and perhaps last — season in the A-10.
“The third game in three days against a team that physical that’s going to steer you and be on you and ride you and bump your cuts — you’ve got to have some stuff to you to do that for 40 minutes when you’re fresh,” said Stevens, who didn’t want to talk about reports that Butler is joining the Big East’s breakaway basketball schools. “You kind of saw the last 10 minutes they got better and we didn’t play as well.”
The Billikens forced 20 turnovers and turned them into 26 points.
Butler center Andrew Smith was in foul trouble most of the game and finished with eight points and two rebounds.
Ellis hit four 3-pointers off the bench to score 13 points for Saint Louis.
Stevens said Butler hasn’t faced anyone this season with as much strength as the Billikens. Not even Indiana.
Saint Louis isn’t like many other teams. Coach Rick Majerus died in December after being hospitalized for several months, and Crews has been leading the Billikens with the interim tag.
Their top eight scorers are juniors and seniors.
“Saint Louis is old,” Stevens said. “They’ve been through it. They’ve done it. And they are men.”