Saint Louis Wins Fifth Straight Game

ST. LOUIS — The last two games of January were not kind to the Saint Louis University basketball team as the Billikens coughed up a double-digit lead in the second half to lose at George Washington in overtime and followed that up with a 26-point loss at Richmond.

The month of February, however, has revived a struggling squad, produced the team's longest winning streak since the 2002-03 season and has everyone paying attention to coach Rick Majerus and the youngest team in the nation.

Saint Louis U's 62-57 victory over visiting Rhode Island on Wednesday night was the Billikens' fifth consecutive victory and fourth straight in which the team overcame a double-digit deficit to pull it out.

"It was a nice win," Majerus told reporters. "We were like those dogs in 'Cool Hand Luke,' sitting there with our tongues hanging out. The guys showed the heart of a racehorse tonight."

SLU, which fell to 12-8 with the loss at Richmond, improved to 17-8 overall and 8-3 in the Atlantic 10 Conference with Wednesday's victory, which tied the Billikens with Charlotte for fourth place in the league standings.

The 7,257 fans at Chaifetz Arena on Wednesday — which included the arena's namesake, Dr. Richard Chaifetz, for the second straight game — were once again a factor and there's no denying that the home atmosphere has been good for the young Billikens.

Saint Louis improved to 14-1 at home this season, including 5-0 in league play, and 28-4 in two seasons at the new on-campus arena.

For the 15th time this season, the Billikens' leading scorer was sophomore point guard Kwamain Mitchell, who tallied 13 points on three-of-10 shooting but was a strong seven of 11 from the free throw line.

Mitchell, who is averaging 16 points per game, had plenty of help.

Sophomore guard Kyle Cassity had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists in 37 minutes and, though he had some shaky moments in the first half, helped the Billikens defeat the Rams' full-court pressure defense.

Sophomore forward Willie Reed registered 11 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Freshman guard Christian Salecich, who looks like he has overcome a mid-season slump that cost him his starting spot for several games, chipped in with 10 points on four-of-six shooting.

Salecich's roommate and fellow Australian Cody Ellis, the freshman forward who joined the team at the semester break, added nine points and seven rebounds. Sophomore forward Brian Conklin had five points and six boards.

Rhode Island (19-6, 7-5), which led by as many as 12 points in the first half, lost for the third straight game despite freshman guard Akeem Richmond's game-high 18 points on six 3-pointers.

"We did a great job in the first half and I thought for 30 minutes I thought the game was very competitive and we were right there in the mix," Rhody coach Jim Baron said. "We just can't turn it over, have costly turnovers and make dumb plays."

Saint Louis was able to limit the effectiveness of the Rams' biggest threats.

Rhody's top three scorers — senior guard Keith Cothran, junior forward Delroy James and senior forward Lamonte Ulmer — combined for 17 points after averaging 40.7 points per contest going into Wednesday's game.

Saint Louis took over late in the second half, turning a 51-49 deficit into a 61-51 advantage with 12 consecutive points as Rhody went nearly six minutes without scoring. The Rams missed six straight shots during that stretch and missed four free throw attempts before Richmond scored the team's next basket on a 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining.

"We weren't knocking shots down and they were making everything," Richmond said. "We weren't playing great defense. We were just letting them go right by us. There were a lot of things we weren't doing right."

The Billikens, who head back on the road for a game at Massachusetts on Sunday afternoon, have been doing a lot of things right lately. SLU's five-game win streak is the most since the Billikens won eight straight late in the 2002-03 season, which was former coach Brad Soderberg's first season.

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