|Dwayne Evans posted a game-high 21 points to help the Billikens beat VCU. Photo by Billiken Athletics|
ST. LOUIS — Dwayne Evans scored a game-high 21 points to lead four Saint Louis players in double figures, and the 12th-ranked Billikens held off a late VCU rally to post their 17th straight victory, 64-62, Saturday afternoon before a Chaifetz Arena record crowd of 10,639.
The Billikens improved to 23-2 overall — the best 25-game start in program history — and 10-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The 10-0 league start is one win shy of tying the school mark of 11-0, set by the 1946-47 Bills in the Missouri Valley Conference.
SLU continued to prove its ability to win the close ones in A-10 play. Seven of the Billikens' 10 conference games have been decided by eight or fewer points, and four contests have had a margin of four or fewer points.
Second-place VCU, which lost for the second time in three games, fell to 20-6, 8-3.
Evans was 8-of-13 from the field and 5-of-6 from the foul line. He grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season.
Jordair Jett and Rob Loe tallied 14 points apiece, and Mike McCall Jr. tossed in 12. Jett had five assists to tie for game-high honors and added six rebounds, while McCall Jr. dished out four assists.
Treveon Graham registered 16 points and eight rebounds for VCU, which was held to 38.5 percent shooting overall and 12.5 percent (2-of-16) from beyond the arc. Juvonte Reddic and Briante Weber scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, and collected nine rebounds apiece. Weber added five assists.
"You've got two good teams that really compete against each other," SLU head coach Jim Crews said. "It was certainly a 15-rounder.
"We've had some opportunities to not respond to challenges," Crews said. "I think it's been a great character trait of our guys that they do respond. That doesn't mean we're going to win all the time. They don't quit on things. Even if we would have lost today, they didn't quit on things."
"Great game by Saint Louis," VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. "They're a terrific team. Their best players stepped up and really made some good plays down the stretch. There's a reason they've won so many games in a row."
VCU scored on three of its first four second-half possessions to turn a three-point halftime deficit into a 33-31 lead. But Saint Louis answered with an 18-4 outburst to take a 12-point advantage, the largest by either team.
Jett began the run with a floater that just beat the shot clock. Evans drove for a dunk, and Jett's three-point play gave the Billikens a 38-33 lead.
Loe's layup and Evans' fast-break layup that beat the VCU press made it 42-35. Evans gathered his own miss and converted, McCall Jr. drained a 3-pointer, and Evans sank two from the stripe to put SLU on top 49-37 with 10:22 to play.
The Rams responded with a 16-4 flurry that resulted in a 53-all deadlock with 2:17 remaining. But SLU, which suffered four consecutive empty possessions at the end of the VCU run, scored on its final six opportunities.
After Graham's three-point play tied it, McCall Jr. made a tough contested layup to put the Billikens back on top for good. Saint Louis then forced VCU into a missed 3-pointer and a turnover and capitalized both times, with Jett's driving layup and Loe's trey stretching the lead to 60-53.
Reddic's three-point play with 28 seconds left cut the margin to four, but SLU converted enough free throws in the waning moments to extend its school-record winning streak.
"Having the arena full like that, and everyone's really involved, it definitely gives us energy," Evans said. "It's like the fans are out there with us.
"When it comes down to the last two minutes, we walk out there and look at each other and say, 'Let's just get it done.' We trust each other to be in the right spot and do the right thing."
The first half featured six ties and 10 lead changes. VCU led 16-10 following a 10-3 run punctuated by a Melvin Johnson 3-pointer. An 8-0 spurt, sparked by Evans' offensive rebound and layup and concluding with Evans' driving dunk, put Saint Louis on top 18-16.
There were six more lead changes the remainder of the half, the final one coming on a Loe free throw that gave the Billikens a 26-25 edge. Jett made a steal and went the length of the floor for a layup, then finished the half with a drive that capped a 7-2 run and put the Bills in front 30-27 at intermission.
Up next for the Billikens is a trip to Fairfax, Va., for a rematch with George Mason Wednesday, Feb. 19. Tip time is 6 p.m. (CT), and the game will be televised on NBC Sports Network. The Billikens defeated the Patriots 87-81 in overtime earlier this month in St. Louis.