INDIANAPOLIS – Saint Louis coach Jim Crews and Butler’s Brad Stevens nearly echoed each other when assessing the key to Friday night’s game.
I think the start to the second half was key, Crews said after Saint Louis took control of the Atlantic 10 race with a 65-61 comeback win over the No. 15 Bulldogs.
Mike McCall had 18 points and Kwamain Mitchell scored 10 of his 12 in the second half to help Saint Louis rally. Dwayne Evans added 17 points for the Billikens, who won for the fourth time this season against a Top 25 opponent – a school record – and earned their ninth victory in a row in Atlantic 10 play. The previous eight had all been by 10 points or more.
Saint Louis (21-5, 10-2) remains firmly in control in the conference, holding a one-game lead over No. 24 Virginia Commonwealth. The Billikens beat VCU 76-62 on Tuesday.
We focus on the first four minutes every game, and today we faced a little adversity in the first half, Evans said. That was our first deficit in a while; ... the guys responded well, and we ended up making a huge run.
The win also gave Saint Louis a season sweep of Butler (22-6, 9-4), which had 23 turnovers in a 75-58 loss to the Billikens on Jan. 31.
To lose to a team twice, it hurts more than most, Roosevelt Jones said.
The Billikens took control to open the second half, scoring seven of the first nine points after halftime to take a 37-36 lead they would never relinquish. Mitchell’s layup put Saint Louis back in front with 17:20 to play.
Saint Louis didn’t make it easy on itself with an 8-of-17 showing at the free throw line in the second half, which allowed Butler to stick around.
Jones made a layup and was fouled with 5:26 remaining, but he missed the free throw and Saint Louis retained a 57-56 lead.
In a game like this, every single point, every single play matters, said Stevens, who watched his Bulldogs also struggle at the line after the break with a 7-of-14 performance.
No. 5 DUKE 61, No. 19 FLORIDA STATE 50: In Durham, N.C., Elizabeth Williams had 20 points and 13 rebounds as the Blue Devils (25-1, 15-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their 37th straight ACC home game.
No. 6 CALIFORNIA 77, OREGON 55: In Berkeley, Calif., Layshia Clarendon scored 14 points as the Bears won their school-record 12th straight game.
No. 16 NORTH CAROLINA 72, VIRGINIA TECH 50: In Blacksburg, Va., Tierra Ruffin-Pratt scored 17 points as the Tar Heels (24-4, 12-3) clinched a first-round bye in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.