Saint Louis Uses D To Defeat Dayton

ST. LOUIS — The Saint Louis University basketball team's promising future has arrived sooner than expected and turned the Billikens into a factor in the Atlantic 10 Conference late in the season.

On Saturday night, before a buzzing sold-out crowd of 10,603 at Chaifetz Arena, Saint Louis won for the sixth time in seven games when the Billikens knocked off A-10 leading No. 25 Dayton, 57-49.

"Saint Louis right now is playing as good as anybody in the league, maybe better," Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. "… I have an unbelievable amount of respect for Coach (Rick) Majerus. Just to see this team grow has been kind of fun. I didn't have a fun of watching them on film the last couple of days, but it was fun to see the progress that this team has made. They are good. They are real good. The young guys have gotten better. … Obviously Rick is very demanding, but does a good job with those guys. They are really flowing very well right now."

Saint Louis improved to 17-10 overall and 8-5 in Atlantic 10 play in the second season under Majerus, after winning 16 games a year ago. The Billikens are now 14-2 in their debut season at Chaifetz Arena.

"It's really us playing like we're supposed to play," senior forward Barry Eberhardt said. "That's defense first. We're a defensive team. Everybody just has to believe we're the team we are. We played against a lot of teams. We've gotten blown out. We lost close games. We've won close games. We've been everywhere. We just need to take it one day at a time, one game at a time and not get too high or too low."

Lisch, Conklin defending (Whitney Curtis/AP)

Saint Louis was stout defensively on Saturday. Dayton (23-4, 9-3) shot 34.5 percent in the first half (10 of 29), 26.9 percent in the second half (seven of 26) and just 30.9 percent for the game (17 of 55).

"I thought they did a great job defensively," Majerus said. "They have been playing extraordinarily hard, but they played real smart. We changed defenses tonight, not too often but tried to keep them off balances and changed the coverages within the man."

The Billikens were led, once again, by the senior guard tandem of Kevin Lisch and Tommie Liddell III. Lisch scored a game-high 16 points and made nine of 10 free throw attempts, including five in the final 38 seconds. Liddell had 10 points and a game-high five assists.

"I'm really, really happy for the guys," Majerus said. "I'm really happy for Lisch and Liddell. Kevin just plays terrific defense. Tommie has become a very smart defender."

The Baby Billikens are growing up as well. SLU's outstanding freshman class had several impact performers on Saturday.

Forward Willie Reed blocked seven shots, which was one shy of the school's single-game record. Forward Brian Conklin had nine points, including eight in the first half, and five rebounds. Point guard Kwamain Mitchell shook off a rough shooting night to finish with eight points, including a clutch three-point play with 3:25 remaining. Center Brett Thompson had four rebounds and a blocked shot and guard Kyle Cassity had three assists.

Eberhardt, one of SLU's three seniors, contributed nine points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.

"I thought Barry did a good job of having an abysmal first half and then came out and had a terrific second half with his effort," Majerus said. "That's what sports are all about. There's a transference or it transcends to a life experience. It's not so much about how you deal with the good in life, it's how you deal with the adversity. Barry, we had a good visit at half."

Dayton was led by sophomore forward Chris Wright's 11 points and seven rebounds in a team-high 28 minutes. Senior guard forward Charles Little and junior guard Marcus Johnson added 10 points apiece.

"We lost to a good team today on the road in a tough environment to play from a Hall of Fame coach," Gregory said. "We need to learn from it and get better and move on. There's nothing to be ashamed of losing to this team the way this team is playing because they are playing extremely well right now."

Saint Louis led by as many as 10 points after a quick start and held a 28-24 advantage at halftime. After falling behind in the first few minutes of the second half — Dayton's largest lead was three points — the Billikens rallied down the stretch.

Eberhardt's 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:11 remaining and Lisch's five free throws in the final 38 seconds helped secure the victory.

"We went through a stretch to start the second half where they came out more aggressive, but we did a good job of gathering ourselves and coming out and playing," Lisch said.

The Billikens go back on the road for their next two games. Saint Louis plays at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday and then at Duquesne the following Wednesday before returning home to Chaifetz Arena to host La Salle on March 7.


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