The Saint Louis Billikens are singing the blues after losing for a third straight year in the round of 32. They were beaten by the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday, 66-51, to end one of the best runs in school history.
The winningest class in school history only converted 39.6 percent of their shots on Saturday and were 0-15 from 3-point range. Louisville was able to make timely buckets when it counted and SLU could not get their shots to fall all game. It was a difficult day as most of the last recruits of former Bills Head coach Rick Majerus’ finished their college careers.
"I thought we took a lot of good shots today," said SLU forward Dwayne Evans. "They weren't falling, but we had the right guys in the right spots. I guess you have days like that. Obviously we would have wanted it another way, but they were good shots."
The game got off to a physical start. Both teams scrapped and fought for the ball during the first four minutes of the game. It was sloppy basketball play on both ends of the floor with very little scoring. After a few minutes, SLU’s Rob Loe received a technical foul after elbowing Louisville’s Luke Hancock in the face.
Loe was a major key for the Bills in Thursday’s victory over the North Carolina State Wolfpack, but he would have to sit the majority of the first half after picking up the dead ball technical foul. He then picked up his third foul with 9:59 left in the first half after briefly reentering the game. Loe’s loss would be a huge difference for the Cardinals.
Luke Hancock picked up where he left off on Thursday and was nailing 3-pointers. Despite, the sloppiness of the rest of the players on the floor, Hancock was sharp and a major reason why Louisville had a 14-6 lead with 7:21 left in the first half.
The Bills struggled to make shots in the first half. Some shots would go halfway down until they rimmed out. It was difficult to watch after the Billikens were so efficient on offense during the final eight minutes and overtime period of the NC State game. It appeared that they had spent too much energy on Thursday’s game. Also, Louisville’s press seemed to disrupt the Bills offense. The Cardinals forced 11 turnovers in the first half, but the Cards struggled as well.
Still, the Cardinals were able to create more scoring opportunities than the Billikens. A Wayne Blackshear jumper gave the Cardinals its first double-digit lead with 1:31 left in the first half. SLU cut the deficit to 9-points just before halftime.
Saint Louis would respond coming out of halftime. They seemed energized and played with a renewed level of intensity. They had a 15-2 run to open the second half and briefly claimed the lead on a Loe layup. That forced Louisville head coach Rick Pitino to call a timeout and regroup his squad. SLU was excited that they had claimed a lead, but Louisville proved their resilience.
After SLU claimed the lead, the Cards went on a quick 6-0 run to reclaim a 4-point lead. The Billikens went cold for nearly six minutes midway through the second half. This cold streak gave Louisville the opportunity to go on an 11-2 spurt to extend the Cards lead to 52-39 with 4:50 in the second half.
SLU would not have another dramatic comeback in them and only came within single one more time during the game. Their shooting struggles continued in the second half and that ended their tournament run.
"For the most part when it was in the half court we did a pretty good defensively, and they did, too. We weren't very good offensively or efficient. Louisville was good defensively half court, we were good defensively half court. But we did turn the ball over too many times and so forth," said SLU head coach Jim Crews. "But with that being said, one game certainly is not going to dictate one thing or another, and I certainly don't want that to overshadow it won't overshadow in our program what these seniors have done. They've had an amazing career."
The Billikens will lose their five senior starters and will have to create a new starting lineup for next season. It will be a difficult task for any subsequent class to follow what this group of seniors did for Saint Louis University. In their four years, they went to the NCAA Tournament three times, won the Atlantic 10 regular season title twice, won one A-10 conference championship and won 93 games in their four years at SLU. But more importantly, they helped establish a winning culture and hype around the SLU program. They (Mike McCall Jr. Jordair Jett, Jake Barnett, Dwayne Evans and Rob Loe) will be missed.