This is the epitome of “big time basketball.” Never before had Chaifetz Arena hosted a top-10 team. Additionally, No. 9 Butler University is atop the Atlantic 10 Conference standings, and Saint Louis University, coming off an embarrassing home loss to Rhode Island, desperately needed a win to stay in contention for the conference title. Oh, and because this was only the second top-10 team to face SLU, a marquee victory wouldn’t hurt their NCAA resume. On top of all that, the fans showed out in record numbers, and the game was nationally televised. Talk about big time. The game lived up to the hype. The Billikens dominated the Bulldogs, delivering, arguably, the best defensive performance in Chaifetz history. The game ended with the student section rushing the court, capping off a historic night for SLU.
The double-overtime victory gets the second slot simply because of the drama. SLU had been causing havoc within the A-10 by upsetting opponents left and right. Dayton came to town flying high, and the Billikens sensed a chance to insert themselves into the conversation for, at least, the NIT(National Invitation Tournament). SLU overcame a 15-point deficit in regulation, capped by a 3-pointer by Kwamain Mitchell to tie the game at 54-54 with one second remaining. The play became known as “The Shot” in Billiken lore. SLU won the game in the final 10 seconds on free throw shots from Brian Conklin. It was, at the time, the most thrilling victory in Chaifetz Arena history. The game, played on Mardi Gras, started a tradition of intense mid-January Billiken basketball games.
For the first time in Chaifetz Arena history, SLU put up 50-points in one half and against a ranked team. The 77-64 victory over Washington ignited NCAA Tournament fervor for the Billikens. It ultimately became a linchpin in SLU’s overall resume. Conklin scored a career-high 25 points, and the Bills ruined Washington head coach and former Billiken mentor Lorenzo Romar’s homecoming. While the overall game performance was stellar, a stunning first half gave SLU a 25-point lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Though Chaifetz housed just a meager crowd that Sunday, national pundits took notice of the arena as a true basketball home court advantage. Following the win, SLU began receiving votes in the Associated Press poll, ultimately getting ranked for the first time in a decade after winning the 76 Classic Tournament in Anaheim.
There is nothing better than revenge. Disappointing losses to Santa Clara and Washington set up a thrilling rematch with then-No. 20 New Mexico. In the previous season, SLU took a New Year’s Eve trip to the Lobos, received a bitter loss and held a grudge. In front of nearly 7,000 fans, SLU turned that grudge into a fiery marquee win for the 2012-13 season. To put it plainly, should the Billikens receive a bid into the NCAA Tournament, this game will be a win they could not swap for a loss. New Mexico head coach Steve Alford was so distraught with his team’s performance that he was ejected from the game. “Playing defense like that is so much fun,” Cody Ellis said after the game. “It’s a huge momentum swing.”
For the first time since joining the A-10, SLU completed a full-season sweep of archrival Xavier, making this the fifth best game to take place at Chaifetz Arena. The game also capped an outstanding conference season for the Billikens. The highlight of the game was a 24-3 run to kick-off the second half, essentially sealing the deal and putting the Billikens on cruise control. The game was also the last home game of Brian Conklin and Kyle Cassity, two players who define SLU’s rise to national recognition. And, though we didn’t know it then, it was also the last game coached by Rick Majerus at Chaifetz Arena. Having previously celebrated his 50oth victory, Majerus cried as he saluted his seniors in front of 10,441 fans, one of just four sellouts in the history of the arena.