It was senior night at Saint Louis University, but it was not the way the seniors would have wanted to close their careers. The most successful class in school history ended their careers at Chaifetz Arena with another loss, a bittersweet goodbye to the place they have called home for four years. The Billikens extended their losing streak to three games by losing the Dayton Flyers, 72-67, and it's clear that the starters are running out of gas without the necessary support from their bench.
Saint Louis guards Mike McCall Jr., Jordair Jett, Jake Barnett, and forwards Dwayne Evans and Rob Loe have played their final game at home. They came in under former head coach Rick Majerus and were part of making SLU into a top 10 program. They happened to reach the top 10 on Majerus’ birthday a few weeks ago, but have stumbled since that point.
However, the team did have one bright spot on Wednesday. The Saint Joseph’s Hawks lost against the George Washington Colonials, meaning that SLU still claimed a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title. SLU will have the overall number one seed in A-10 conference tournament in Brooklyn.
The seniors and their teammates are not finished, as they have one more regular season game and tournament play left. They hope to be the first Saint Louis team ever to go beyond the round of 32. However, they are in a tail spin as of late and are looking for answers after their 19 game winning streak ended last week.
"We are disappointed that we didn’t win tonight; Dayton outplayed us," said Saint Louis head coach Jim Crews. "We played a lot of good basketball, Dayton played a lot of good basketball, it was good college basketball. We are disappointed with the loss."
Loe had an electric start to this game. With his parents from New Zealand in the crowd, he scored SLU’s first 7 points on a three-pointer and some drives into the post to make some tough early buckets. SLU opened the game on a 7-0 run and led the game 9-5 at the first media timeout.
Dayton stayed close with the Billikens the rest of the first half. Flyers guard Jordan Sibert nailed two key three-pointers when the Billikens had a couple opportunities to extend their first half lead. However, toward the end of the first half, the game appeared to be tilting in Saint Louis’s favor.
Yet, that momentum came at a price. With about eight minutes left in the first half, Jett fell to the ground in pain, holding his right knee. He returned a few minutes later, but was not the same "Air Jordair" that Billikens fans have come to know this season. He appeared hesitant and not as explosive as usual. That will be something to keep an eye on going forward, but SLU did not fold.
The Billikens closed the half on a mini-run that gave them a seven point lead going into halftime. The team forced the action and got to the foul line. They hit a number of free throws that seem to stabilize them going into halftime, but the fatigue of the long season seem to hit them in the second half.
They clung to their lead for nearly 15 minutes in the second half. Dayton was inching closer and closer to claim the lead. After a slow crawl, the Flyers grabbed the lead with 5:51 left in the second half on a Sibert 3-pointer to claim a 60-57 lead.
The Flyers were working on a 16-2 run that nearly put the game out of reach for the Billikens, but they had one last gasp to get back into the game.
SLU got within one point with 34 seconds on a layup from Evans. After Dayton made two free throws, Barnett hoisted a three to tie the game, but it missed and SLU was forced to foul with three seconds left in the game. The Flyers iced the game with those two free throws.
SLU did claim a share of the A-10 title, but it is not the way they imagined.
"It is not the way that we wanted to get to that point," said Evans. "We just didn’t play well enough to win, but I guess that’s good going forward. They made shots, we had some key turnovers, personally, I had a couple that were inexcusable, but they played well and we did not make plays when we needed to (against Dayton)."
Saint Louis has an opportunity to claim the outright conference title on Sunday, March 9 against the Massachusetts Minutemen at 2 p.m. Dayton will return home to close out the regular season against the Richmond Spiders on Saturday, March 8 at 7 p.m.