No. 18 Saint Louis holds off GWU

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Saint Louis Billikens have relied on physical defense in fashioning their current winning streak.

On Saturday, they had to overcome a physical defense to keep it going.

Dwayne Evans finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds and Kwamain Mitchell added 18 points as No. 18 Saint Louis won its 11th straight game, holding off George Washington 66-58.

With two games remaining in the regular season, Saint Louis (23-5, 12-2 Atlantic 10) holds a one-game lead over Virginia Commonwealth (23-6, 11-3), which routed No. 20 Butler 84-52 on Saturday.

“They’re a very physical team,” Billikens interim coach Jim Crews said of the Colonials. “They really attack you in so many different ways. I’m very pleased with our guys. We kept hanging in there.”

Reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week Kevin Larsen led George Washington with 14 points. The Colonials (12-15, 6-8) have lost three straight and five of six.

Up by eight points and with the ball early in the second half, Saint Louis committed turnovers on seven of its next nine possessions against George Washington’s 1-3-1 zone.

The Colonials went on a 14-5 run and took its first lead of the game, 42-41, on a dunk by Nemanja Mikic off a steal by Lasan Kromah, who finished with 12 points.

“We let their pressure get to us,” Evans said. “Guys kept making quick decisions and that doesn’t bode well for us. When we got back to playing our pace, playing team ball, we started playing how we’re used to playing.”

The Colonials led by three points with just over 7 minutes left when the Billikens put together a 10-0 run. Evans hit two free throws and then converted a layup when Mitchell’s 3-point attempt came up short. Rob Loe, Evans and Mitchell all made two free throws on consecutive possessions to put Saint Louis up 55-48 with 4:20 left.

“I thought the zone bothered us a little bit to start and then we did pretty well against it once we settled in a little bit,” Crews said.

George Washington got no closer than five points the rest of the way.

“Up three with 7 minutes left, three timeouts left, I thought we were in great shape, but we definitely had some costly turnovers, and we had trouble getting to the line and we had trouble scoring,” George Washington coach Mike Lonergan said.

Saint Louis finished 21 of 24 from the free throw line in winning its first game in five tries at George Washington.

“Our free throw shooting was phenomenal tonight. But we’re gonna need performances like that if we want to be successful down the stretch,” Evans said. “I think it’s probably contagious. Guys see guys knocking down free throws and they wanna step up and do the same thing.”

The Colonials made just eight of 15 free throws.

“We were trying to play physical. We had 44 points in the paint,” Lonergan said. “We either missed some easy shots or, I don’t know, our guys felt they were getting fouled and we just didn’t get calls.”

The Billikens shot 41.7 percent from the field (20 of 48) to 41.4 percent for George Washington (24 of 58) and outrebounded the Colonials 34-32.

The 11-game run is the Billikens’ longest winning streak since they won 14 straight to start 1993-94.

The Colonials entered Saturday’s game in a four-way tie for ninth place in the Atlantic 10 standings with Charlotte, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Bonaventure, a game ahead of 13th-place Dayton.

The top 12 teams in the final 16-team league standings qualify for the 2013 A-10 Championship March 14-17.

“This time of the season there’s no time for moral victories,” said Kromah, who finished with 12 points. “We have to get some wins underneath our belt.”

The Billikens twice built eight-point leads in the first half, but went cold from the field as George Washington rallied.

The Colonials had a chance to tie it after Larsen was fouled while converting a layup with 4:15 left, but he missed the free throw.

After the teams traded baskets St. Louis went on a 7-1 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer from the corner by Rob, and took a 32-26 lead into halftime.