SLU does everything right except get the win against No. 16 VCU

Milik Yarbrough and the Billikens put up a good fight against VCU but in the end it just wasn't enough. 

Jasen Vinlove/Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS — The Saint Louis Billikens did virtually everything but win Friday night at Chaifetz Arena.

The young Billikens played even with the far more experienced and 16th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth Rams until the final play, when they allowed the game’s leading scorer, Treveon Graham, to dribble the length of the court for a not-contested-enough layup that proved the difference in the 63-61 outcome.

SLU junior Ash Yacoubou had made one of two free throws that evened the score at 61 with seven seconds to go. After a timeout, Graham in-bounded the ball on the VCU baseline, was given back the ball and calmly drove the length of the court for the winning one-footer.

"We wanted to get it in, get it right back to him and just get out of the way," VCU coach Shaka Smart said.

"Obviously, not good defense if you give up a layup," SLU coach Jim Crews said. "It was misplayed by us, but Graham’s a good player."

"He had been going right the whole game, so we played him going to his left and he went that way but we were late on help," said freshman forward Milik Yarbrough. "He made a tough layup."

While Graham ruined the outcome for SLU (9-10, 1-5), that one play should not detract much from the Billikens’ performance. Coming in, they had lost five of six games and not looked good doing so. But against one of the nation’s most suffocating defenses, they did not crumble. VCU, ranked third in the nation in forcing turnovers (17.6) and in steals (10.6), came up with only six swipes and created 14 turnovers against SLU.

"We had all week to prepare for the press," junior guard Austin McBroom said. "We even threw a sixth guy out there (in practice) so we were going up against the press a lot in practice. That helped a lot."

The Billikens also out-rebounded (36-29) and out-shot the Rams (43.8 percent to 36.7 percent), who went back to Richmond, Va., with their 11th win in a row. During that streak, VCU had led 90 percent of the time, but it trailed against SLU for a good portion of the first half. SLU stayed even for most of the second half, trailing by no more than six (and by that for just 20 seconds) and even took a two-point lead with 40 seconds to go on a floater in the lane by McBroom.

But VCU’s Jordan Burgess followed with an open 3-pointer — his only basket of the night — that put VCU up 61-60 and after Yacoubou missed the first free throw before tying the score, the stage was set for Graham, who finished with 21 points.

Playing so tough and coming so close against the Atlantic 10 Conference leaders, however, was little consolation for the Billikens, who got more than half of their points from freshmen.

"We moved it down another mile marker, that’s good," Crews said. "We’re not pleased we got beat, not whatsoever."

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"We’re sick of losing," added Yarbrough, who led SLU with 15 points. "We’re getting better every day, but we just need to keep on improving and get on a roll. We’re tired of losing."

If they continue to develop, no less an authority than VCU’s Smart sees plenty of winning ahead.

"They played with terrific energy and fight," Smart said. "They have a young team, but you can see them getting better and better. This is going to be a heckuva group."

Smart’s team is the one known for playing in-your-face defense, but the Billikens stared the Rams in the face and did not back down.  

"Their defense was really good. They were physical, which was impressive for the youth they have on the team," Smart said. "It’s hard sometimes to get freshmen to play with that level of physicality, but they did a nice job with that."

The Billikens did a nice job with a lot of things, except for the one that matters most. 

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