Saturday’s Saint Louis University and Virginia Commonwealth University basketball game was evidence that one more play can truly make a difference.
If VCU had made one more three-pointer, forced another turnover or did something else, they would have come away with the victory. However, it was SLU who converted down the stretch to extend their winning streak to 17 games.
Led by their seniors, the Billikens had a key 7-0 run after the Rams had tied the game at 53 with 2:17 left in the game. Saint Louis Guards Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett hit two layups to reclaim the lead. Billikens Forward Rob Loe then hit a key three-pointer to extend the lead to 7 points forcing VCU Rams Head Coach Shaka Smart to call a timeout and give the Bills some breathing room with 37 seconds left in the game.
VCU had one final push to cut the lead down to two points with 0.4 seconds left, but it was too late for them.
"It was a great game by Saint Louis," said Smart. "They are a terrific team. I thought their best players stepped up and really made some big plays down the stretch. I was proud of the way our guys battled and fought, but we just ended up coming one possession short."
The first half was a back and forth affair by two strong teams. VCU had the early 13-10 lead with 12:31 left in the first half and forced six uncharacteristic turnovers from the Billikens. The Rams also pounded the ball inside holding a 10-2 advantage for points in the paint.
After a three-pointer by VCU Guard Melvin Johnson, Saint Louis finally woke up and began to play their brand of basketball. They went inside to Forwards Dwayne Evans and Rob Loe who began to take advantage of the Rams lack of side in the interior. Evans and Loe made SLU’s next eight points with two resounding dunks that forced VCU to use an early timeout.
There were a few lead changes from that point, but SLU would hold on to a slim 30-27 lead at halftime after two Jett buckets near the end of the half.
As the second half began, Saint Louis appeared to take control of the game. Jett began to assert his authority in the second half scoring seven of SLU’s first eight points in the second half. The Billikens went inside and extended their lead to 12 points with 10:22 left in the second half.
The Rams did not break. Forty Minutes of "Havoc" lived up to its name; they slowed whittled away at the Billikens large lead. VCU Guards Briante Weber and Treveon Graham brought their team back to tie the game at 53. It appeared that the Billikens were on the verge of a late game collapse, but that is when their seniors stepped up once again.
One thing to know about the Billikens is that this team can bend, but never breaks. Unlike last year’s squad, this team finds way to win, no matter what lies ahead of them. McCall, Jett and Loe converted big time for the Billikens as they extended the lead back to seven points with 37 seconds left.
However, VCU did not go down quietly. Rams Forward Juvonte Reddic had a traditional three-point play and SLU failed to hit their free throws down the stretch. After VCU was forced to foul, Loe hit one of two of his free throws giving the Bills a 4 point lead with 8 seconds left to seal the 64-62 victory.
"As I said before, you got two good teams that really competed against each other and it was certainly a 15-rounder," said Saint Louis Head Coach Jim Crews. "I don’t know what the largest or longest run was, but it did seem like very much by either team, it was just back and forth within this little window. We did make a little bit of a push, and then made some ill-advised passes and misses a few free throws and tied us at 53. And our kids responded."
Saint Louis remains perfect in Atlantic 10 conference play, holding a 10-0 record. The victory gives them a 2.5 game advantage over VCU and 3.5 game advantage over the George Washington Colonials. They are in the driver’s seat for the A-10 regular season title.
"When it really comes down to it, the last two minutes, I mean we really walk out there and look at each other and say ‘let’s just get it done’," said Evans after the victory. "We trust each other to be in the right spots and do the right thing."
Saint Louis will go on the road on Wednesday, Feb. 19 to take on the George Mason Patriots in a potential trap game for the Billikens. VCU will have six days off to prepare for their road game against the Massachusetts Minutemen on Friday, Feb. 21.