St. Bonaventure-Saint Louis Preview
With three straight losses, Saint Louis really stretched out clinching their second straight outright regular-season Atlantic 10 title before winning on the final possession of Sunday's finale.
The 18th-ranked Billikens won't be afforded the same cushion in their quest for a second consecutive conference tournament title, beginning Friday in Brooklyn against No. 9 seed St. Bonaventure in a matchup of the last two champions.
The top-seeded Billikens (26-5) won the A-10 regular season in dramatic fashion. After losing three in a row to let VCU back into the race, Sunday's 64-62 victory at Massachusetts required A-10 player of the year Jordair Jett to make a driving layup in the closing seconds.
"I couldn't be happier for these guys," coach Jim Crews told the school's official website. "What they have done is extraordinary, winning the A-10 regular season last year, then the A-10 championship, and now this today. We had guys make big plays throughout the game today. We had good options there on the last play. Everyone did their part."
Jett (13.8 points per game) finished with a team-high 17 points while Dwayne Evans (14.0) had 14 and Mike McCall Jr. added 12. Jett thinks the win should have the Billikens back on a high entering the postseason.
"It definitely gives us momentum," said Jett, whose team set a school record with 19 straight wins before the recent struggles. "We needed a win desperately to claim outright A-10 titles back-to-back, so we knew what it was coming into it and we came through."
They were able to do so despite matching their worst 3-point shooting effort of the season at 2 for 13.
Saint Louis' only regular-season meeting with the Bonnies was also close. The Billikens led by one at halftime and emerged with a 66-60 home win Jan. 15. Evans scored 18 and Jett had 15 as they won their third straight in the series.
Bonnies top scorer Matthew Wright (16.7) had 17 points while Dion Wright added 16 off the bench.
St. Bonaventure (17-14) entered the tournament on a four-game losing streak before advancing to the quarterfinals with an impressive shooting performance in Thursday's 82-72 victory over La Salle. The Bonnies shot 53.6 percent after settling for 44.9 in their previous four.
Focusing on the interior game, the Bonnies went 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
"In the past, we lost a lot of close games because we weren't able to finish," coach Mark Schmidt said. "We weren't able to make a big play to stop the momentum. Today we did."
Seven-footer Youssou Ndoye had a team-high 19 points with 10 rebounds while Marquise Simmons scored 15 and Charlon Kloof added 14. Ndoye is averaging 15.0 points in his last five games, nearly five above his season mark.
After not qualifying for last season's A-10 tournament, the Bonnies have now won a school-record four straight conference tournament games after going 3-0 in 2012. But Schmidt isn't quite as high on momentum as Jett.
"As I said all along, momentum is fleeting," Schmidt said. "You can't worry about the four losses. It's when the ball goes up, you have to make your own momentum and I thought we did that."
The winner advances to Saturday's semifinal against the winner of No. 4 Saint Joseph's and No. 5 Dayton.