INDIANAPOLIS - The Saint Louis Billikens walked into historic Hinkle Fieldhouse and pulled out a dramatic 65-61 victory over the 15th ranked Butler Bulldogs on Friday night. With the win, SLU improves to 21-5 and 10-2 in conference. The Billikens are currently in the drivers seat for a conference championship, defeating top contenders Butler twice and VCU once. Its SLUs to lose at this point. With that being said, here is a brief breakdown of what went down in Indy.
BUTLER BREAKS OUT EARLY
The Bulldogs utilized an early 10-0 run in the first half to push their lead to 17-9 before a Dwayne Evans offensive rebound and put-back with 9:47 to go before halftime finally broke the streak for SLU. But on the following possession, Kwamain Mitchell picked up his second foul and was forced to watch the remainder of the half on the bench. That would prove to be a key loss for the Billikens, but were fortunate to stay close, trailing only by five at halftime.
One reason Saint Louis came out slow: Hinkle. The place was rocking from start to finish, and it wasnt just from the Butler faithful. The SLU fans were more than heard from the upper decks throughout the night.
"We were pumped up," Mike McCall Jr. said postgame. "The atmosphere is crazy here and we just tried to play through it."
Butler coach Brad Stevens thought his team played as well as they could have in the opening 20 minutes.
"You look at the boxscore and its 34-29," Stevens said. "And I thought we gave them as good a shot as we could have gave them. I thought we played awfully well."
Butler finished the half shooting 52.4 (11-21) including 4-6 from behind the arc. Compare that to SLU, which shot 35.5 (11-31) and was 1-10 from 3-point land.
SECOND HALF SPURT SPARKS SLU
Different half, different team. Saint Louis sprinted out of the gates, literally. During the opening minutes of the half, SLU went on an 8-0 run in a span of 79 seconds. There was also a span of eight straight possessions where SLU came away with a bucket. It was that jolt from the offense that carried the Billikens the rest of the game.
SLU shot 52 (13-25) from the field in the second half, compared to just 36 (9-25) from Butler. A bit of role-reversal, if you will.
"Our start to the second half was key," Jim Crews said. "We jumped out quick and got some good buckets inside both through drive and into the post. Then Mike hit a big three for us, which kind of gave us a little bit of a spread."
"In the second half the guys came out aggressive," Evans said. "Not in a selfish way, but making plays and making plays for others. We got guys set up in great spots and got really good looks at the basket."
THE LITTLE THINGS
Saint Louis finished with just four turnovers. Jim Crews said sarcastically in the postgame press conference that his plan for this game was for his team to strive for somewhere between three and five turnovers. As funny as he was trying to be, there is no way he could have fathomed such a stellar performance. The Billikens ability to limit errors will keep them in virtually any game. SLU forced Butler into 14 turnovers and turned that into 19 points. A solid, solid night taking care of the ball and capitalizing on mistakes for Saint Louis.
Along with taking care of the rock, the Billikens also made impressive adjustments during the game in terms of attacking the basket. The Bills had one of those nights where the 3-point shot was just not going down. SLU finished just 3-17 from long range, but rather than dwell on shots not falling, the Billikens simply put their heads down and attacked the basket. SLU finished with a 38-18 advantage in points in the paint.
FREE THROWS PROVE COSTLY
When Mike McCall Jr. was fouled with 19 seconds to go in the game, you could almost hear the collective groan from Billiken fans around the arena. The Billikens were miserable from the charity stripe all night, but with his team up by two and the game potentially on the line, McCall Jr. stepped up and knocked down two ridiculously clutch free throws to push the SLU lead to 65-61. That would prove to be all SLU needed, but boy was each and every trip to the line a wild ride. The Billikens finished 14-26 from behind the line on the night, but fortunately for them, Butler was just as bad, finishing 15-26. It is mystifying how two quality teams can go a combined 29-52 on free throws in a game with conference championship implications, but they did.
When asked to comment on the shooting performance, Dwayne Evans kept it simple.
"Yeah, weve got to work on that," Evans said with a smile. "Well address that in practice."
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
For the first time in program history, Saint Louis has defeated four ranked opponents in one season. But even more impressive, the Billikens have set themselves up for their first regular season conference title since the 1970-71 season when they were in the MVC. But if you are looking for Jim Crews to express his thoughts on future accomplishments, dont even bother. Crews replied with a rather Phil Jackson-esque answer following the game.
"Tomorrow doesnt come until midnight tonight," Crews said. "And today brings enough problems today. So we dont worry about tomorrow. Thats just life. We are pretty simple. We are very simple."
PRAISE FROM STEVENS
Following the game, Butler coach Brad Stevens continued his praise of Saint Louis from earlier in the week when he reportedly said he wouldnt be surprised if SLU made it to the Final Four.
"Sometimes we can over analyze these things," said Stevens. "Thats a good basketball team, theyve got really good players. Theyve got a good coach. I thought we played hard, I thought they played hard. They beat us."
And he didnt stop there.
"Ive said it all week, and some people choose to listen and some people dont, but thats a heck of a basketball team. And they can go as far as they want to go."
Next up for the Billikens is a date with preseason A-10 favorite Saint Josephs. The Hawks have underachieved, to say the least, this season but still have the potential to beat anyone on any given night. St. Joes, 14-10 overall and 5-6 in conference play, take on George Washington on Saturday before heading to St. Louis.