Flyers face Top 25 test

Jan 11, 2014; Dayton, OH, USA; St. Louis Billikens center John Manning defends Dayton Flyers guard Vee Sanford (43) during the first half of the game at University of Dayton Arena. 

Robert Leifheit/Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

Saddled with losses in back-to-back games for the first time this season, Saint Louis will get a third shot at clinching at least a share of an elusive Atlantic 10 title.

That task could prove difficult against a Dayton team which appears to be peaking at the right time.

The 17th-ranked Billikens hope to finally celebrate their second straight league crown Wednesday night when they try to deny the visiting Flyers their eighth win in nine games.

Following a school-record 19-game winning streak, suddenly slumping Saint Louis (25-4, 12-2) lost twice in three days with a chance to secure at least a tie for the A-10 regular-season title each time.

The Billikens suffered a 71-64 home loss to lowly Duquesne on Thursday before falling 67-56 at Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday. They haven’t dropped three in a row since a four-game skid in February 2011.

"Our kids responded well and played hard," coach Jim Crews said. "VCU played better. There were no pity parties. It’s a good character trait for our kids, but we didn’t play well enough."

Saint Louis, one game up on surging St. Joseph’s with two remaining, has another chance to seal the deal – and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament – with a win over Dayton (20-9, 8-6) or if the Hawks lose at George Washington.

The Billikens have averaged just 60.0 points on 41.5 percent shooting – including 8 for 36 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range – in the last two games. They had scored 73.6 per game with a 47.8 field-goal percentage over the previous eight.

Jordair Jett, averaging a team-high 13.9 points, scored 18 on 8-of-14 shooting against the Rams. The senior guard ranks third in the A-10 with a 17.6 scoring average in conference games, but was held to 12 in a 67-59 win at Dayton on Jan. 11.

Dwayne Evans looks to regain his shooting touch after averaging 6.0 points – far below his 13.8 season average – in his last three games. He’s totaled 37 points and 16 rebounds while making 15 of 20 shots in his last two meetings with the Flyers.

The senior forward led the way with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, while Austin McBroom added 17 in the January win.

The Flyers put up a season-worst 30.6 field-goal percentage and missed 10 of 14 from beyond the arc in that contest. While the Billikens lead the A-10 in defensive scoring (60.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (39.2), they’re also the nation’s best at defending the arc with a 27.3 3-point percentage.

"It’s their Senior Night and they’re probably a little disappointed and angry about how they’ve been playing," Dayton coach Archie Miller said. "But at the end of the day, it’s not about Saint Louis. We’ve got to continue to play as hard and well as we can possibly play."

After having its six-game winning streak snapped in a 26-point loss at St. Joseph’s on Feb. 25, Miller’s team bounced back with an 86-79 home win over Massachusetts on Saturday.

Jordan Sibert matched a career high with 23 points as Dayton shot 50.0 percent and hit 9 for 20 from beyond the arc. The junior guard also scored a team-high 15 in the first meeting with the Billikens.

The Flyers haven’t faced a ranked opponent since the Maui Invitational in November, topping then-No. 11 Gonzaga 84-79 on Nov. 25 before losing 67-66 to then-No. 18 Baylor in the semifinals the following night.

Dayton has dropped seven of the last nine against Saint Louis.