The Saint Louis Billikens have lived and died by close games all season, but fortune did not favor them on Friday as they were knocked off by the St. Bonaventure on a last second 3-pointer by Jordan Gathers, 71-68.
The fall of the Billikens is startling and this game knocked them down at least two to three seeds in the NCAA Tournament. They allowed the Bonnies to get back into this game after being up 10 at halftime and have done this all year. SLU lacks an instinct to put teams away and that is going to be a problem for them in the tournament. While the bench contributed today, they have been inconsistent all season, which is another major problem for the team.
The Billikens have lost four of their last five games and are knocked out the Atlantic 10 tournament. They will have to wait until Sunday to find out where they will end up for the NCAA Tournament.
SLU did what they do all year and got off to a hot start. They were playing team-oriented basketball as all five starters scored in the opening minutes, they seemed eager to play. The team had a 14-6 lead going into the first media timeout. After the media timeout, forward Dwayne Evans had a huge dunk that gave the Bills an 18-6 lead forcing Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt to call an early timeout. It seemed like SLU was in the driver’s seat, but they let this game slip away.
St. Bonaventure got within three points in the first half before Saint Louis went on a 10-2 run to give them a 32-19 lead. Bonnies guard Charlon Kloof was huge in the first half, slashing to the bucket and forcing SLU to make some tough decisions on defense. This allowed Kloof to find his open teammates for easy buckets.
Before halftime, Youssou Ndoye made a layup to give SBU some momentum going into the locker room. That momentum carried over into the second half allowing the Bonnies to cut into the Billikens lead.
The Bonnies wanted this game more than the Billikens. SLU was trying to conserve their energy for the semifinal match up. Also, they ran into foul trouble that forced them to go to their bench in the second half. SBU picked at the Saint Louis lead until with 9:14 left in the second half the Bonnies claimed the lead on a Matthew Wright 3-pointer.
Wright was on fire in the second half. He scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half. He hit key 3-pointers for the Bonnies, but the Billikens were not out of this game.
After going down five points, SLU mounted a comeback thanks to guards Jordair Jett and Mike McCall Jr. They made some plays to tie the game at 61-61 with 4:32 left, creating an exciting final few minutes of this game.
With 1:41 left in the game, Evans made a reverse layup to give the Billikens their final lead of the day at 65-63. Kloof responded with a jumper to tie the game at 65, but the next play would prove to be controversial.
A-10 Player of the Year Jett held the ball at the top of key and asked his teammates to clear out so he could drive to the basket. Jett blew by his defender and SBU’s Ndoye came over late to attempt to take a charge. Jett collided with Ndoye and appeared to get hit in the arm by Kloof while in the act of shooting. No foul was call, and on the transition Wright nailed a 3-pointer to give the Bonnies a 68-65 lead.
SLU responded with a rare 3-pointer by Evans to tie the game at 68 until Bonnies guard Gathers made his last second basket.
This is a crushing loss for the Billikens. They will make it into the NCAA Tournament, but they will likely end up among the 6 to 8 seed range. After winning 19 straight games, the team is worn out and limping into the NCAA Tournament. They have had great luck all season in tight games, but even that luck seems to be going away at the worst possible time.