Saint Louis Keeps Rolling

Like the bad guys in a zombie film, it seems impossible to kill off Saint Louis University basketball team.

Against La Salle, the Billikens fell behind by 11 and came back to win. Against St. Joseph's, they fell behind by 12 and came back to win. Against Dayton, they overcame a 15-point deficit to win. And on Wednesday against Rhode Island, SLU was down 12 in the first half and won.

That's four straight games SLU has overcome a double-digit deficit and won.

It's either an admirable trait that shows the team's incredible resolve in keeping its game together despite the score or the sign of a disaster waiting to happen. That the run has pushed SLU, picked to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic 10, up into a tie for fourth in the standings going into Sunday's game at Massachusetts, says they'll go with resolve at the moment, though they realize at some point, you can't comeback.

"It will end up biting us sooner or later," said guard Kyle Cassity. "But we stuck together and that's what brought us back."

The deficits usually have come early in games, as SLU gets off to slow starts. Against Rhode Island, the trouble came when the team couldn't stop freshman Akeem Richmond, who hit three consecutive 3-point baskets. Once SLU made an adjustment on him, order was restored and SLU regained control.

For a team without a junior or senior, the mood swings do seem inevitable, even late in the season. But right now, it looks like no deficit is too big for the Billikens to overcome.

SAINT LOUIS 62, RHODE ISLAND 57:

SLU used its trademark tough defense, holding Rhode Island to just six points over the final six minutes of the game to come away with its fifth straight win. The Rams made just two of 10 shots down the stretch, and just one of six free throws.

"Definitely the defensive end was where we won tonight," Cassity said.

SLU didn't shoot its free throws much better, missing three of five in one stretch and making just 16 of 26 in the game, but shot 52.4 percent from the field, the second time in the past five games, and just the sixth time this season, SLU has shot over 50 percent from the field.

NOTES, QUOTES

- Guard Kyle Cassity continues to make his mark on both sides of the ball. He had 11 points and jumpstarted SLU's offense with drives to the basket in the second half and six rebounds. He also is drawing praise from coach Rick Majerus for his defensive abilities, which often put him up against the other team's top scoring guard. On Wednesday, he helped hold Rhode Island's leading scorer, Keith Cothran, to seven points.

- Center Willie Reed moved into a tie for fifth on SLU's all-time blocked shots list, tying Matt Baniak with 87. After scoring just two points against Dayton, Reed had 10 points against Rhode Island, along with nine rebounds. He's averaging 8.8 rebounds in the past five games.

- Forward Brian Conklin had six rebounds in 21 minutes as he continues to make different contributions after losing much of his playing time to Cody Ellis. At the start of the season, Conklin was adding points on offense, but since Ellis arrived from Australia at the start of the conference season, he's become mostly a defensive player and has kept his rebounding numbers consistent even in far fewer minutes.

ON THE SPOT:

Everyone keeps expecting SLU's terrible free throw shooting to cost it games, and it no doubt will, but so far, that hasn't been the case. Though SLU is among the bottom 10 schools in the nation in free throw shooting and shot just 61.5 percent from the line on Wednesday against Rhode Island, the Billikens are 8-3 in Atlantic 10 Connference play.

SLU has gotten by because even when it hasn't been able to extend its lead, its defense has played well enough to keep the opponent from scoring when it gets another chance. Another is that the free throw shooting troubles are apparently contagious, as Dayton and Rhode Island, SLU's two past two wins, have shot even worse from the line. Rhode Island made just five of 13 free throws against SLU and Dayton made 10 of 20, including missing the front ends of two one-and-ones in the final minute or regulation.

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"Most successful people in life make mistakes and say, 'You know what? I made a mistake and I'm not going to let it happen again.' So the school is afraid to say it made a mistake, that's all." -- Coach Rick Majerus on wanting the school administration to admit it erred in joining the Atlantic 10 for the 2005-06 season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP:

Saint Louis started the season streaky as it won its first four games, lost its next three then won its next three. Since then, the Billikens have gone 9-5, including victories in each of its last four games, to improve to 16-8, 7-3 in the Atlantic 10. G Kwamain Mitchell is averaging 16.1 points and F Willie Reed has averages of 11.7 points and 8.2 rebounds.

PLAYER ROTATION:

Usual starters -- F Cody Ellis, F Willie Reid, G Kyle Cassity, G Kwamain Mitchell, G Christian Salecich. Key subs -- F Brian Conklin, G Justin Jordan, F Jon Smith.

GAME REVIEW:

Saint Louis 68, La Salle 65
Saint Louis 56, St. Joseph's 52
Saint Louis 68, Dayton 65

GAME PREVIEW:

vs. Rhode Island, Wednesday, Feb. 17
at Massachusetts, Sunday, Feb. 21
vs. Xavier, Wednesday, Feb. 24
vs. Duquesne, Saturday, Feb. 27
vs. Temple, Wednesday, March 3

IN FOCUS:

Saint Louis is 4-2 against Rhode Island since joining the Atlantic 10 in 2005-06 but lost to the Rams 69-61 on the road last season. Mitchell led Saint Louis with 17 points while Lamonte Ulmer topped Rhode Island with 18 points.

ROSTER REPORT:

- G Kwamain Mitchell followed up one of his worst games of the season with one of his best as he scored 21 points, played all 45 minutes and banked home a three-pointer with 1.3 seconds left in regulation to force overtime as Saint Louis beat Dayton 68-65 in double overtime on Feb. 10. That came after Mitchell scored just nine points in a 56-52 victory at St. Joseph's on Feb. 9, ending a string of 16 consecutive double-digit scoring efforts.

- G Christian Salecich moved back into the starting lineup against St. Joseph's and scored 11 points in 30 minutes, then had five points and four assists in 40 minutes against Dayton. The freshman started the first 17 games this season before being removed from the lineup for six games.

- F Jon Smith has moved back to the bench with the reinsertion of Salecich into the lineup. Smith, a freshman, played only eight minutes in his last start and has logged just a combined 13 minutes off the bench in the last two games.


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