For an exhibition game.
On a Friday night.
That might be all you need to know about the impact Rick Majerus is having on the Saint Louis University basketball program.
Majerus was the center of attention Friday as the Billikens launched their new era with a 71-54 victory against the University of Missouri-St. Louis. A crowd estimated at 8,000 and a jam-packed press row attested to the curiosity the new coach has created as he looks to reshape a program that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2000.
"It felt weird, strange," said Majerus, who was coaching his first game since retiring from Utah in 2004 because of health reasons. "But I don't think I forgot anything."
The Billikens got a game-high 20 points from guard Kevin Lisch and sprinted to a double-digit lead midway through the first half. Tommie Liddell added 14 points and Barry Eberhardt had 12.
Liddell did all his scoring in only 21 minutes. He came off the bench, in part because Majerus hasn't been satisfied with his defensive intensity. Liddell said he's been working on it.
"He wants me to go all-out on every possession," he said. "I'm getting better at it. He's really on me about it. He's actually the first coach to get on me about it since I've been playing basketball, so it's a great thing for me."
Despite the players' strong showing, Majerus was clearly responsible for the turnout at the gate.
Wearing a black sweater and a focused scowl, he stepped out of the tunnel at the Scottrade Center to a hearty round of applause. A few members of the Billikens' pep band made bowing motions and many fans stood and cheered as the first-year coach took his place on the bench.
Otherwise, the courtside show wasn't terribly dynamic. There were no tirades, no protested calls no theatrics of any kind. There wasn't even much yelling. Majerus spent most of the game staring impassively, hands in pockets. He even watched the Billikens' halftime shootaround like a hawk. Much of his in-game patter was barely audible above the crowd.
"He was fairly mellow on the bench," Lisch said. "I had no idea what to expect. He gets after you in practice. I'm sure some games are going to be different than others."
This one was just an exhibition, helping to account for the laid-back atmosphere. The Tritons, despite the presence of three Division I transfers, were not to be mistaken for Pitt, Southern Illinois or the Atlantic 10 opponents that await after the regular season gets under way next Friday against North Carolina A&T at the Hispanic College Fund Classic in Pittsburgh.
Majerus took that talent disparity into account in his postgame comments.
"We should be better than them, and we are better than them," he said. "We're more experienced. I thought [the Tritons] gave a great accounting of themselves. They're well coached. They did some good things to us."
The Billikens looked the part of a big-time program. Their mania for precision was noteworthy and extended well beyond the roster. During timeouts they had a team of student managers in crisply pressed blue shirts and striped ties arrange six chairs on the court - one for the coach and five for the players, all five perfectly aligned.
"He was teaching throughout the whole game," said forward Luke Meyer. "He's really excited to get back to practice and watch some film tomorrow. That's all he could talk about afterward, getting better and getting ready for next week."
The Billikens were planning on practicing twice Saturday, from 11 to noon and from 3 to 6 p.m. In addition, Majerus was getting ready to entertain recruits.
"It's an entertainment weekend is what it is," he said.
The first of many, the Billikens hope.
SLU Beats UMSL In Majerus Debut
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