While seniors Kwamain Mitchell, Cody Ellis and Cory Remekun have provided Billiken hoop fans with some exciting moments for over the years, nothing quite compared to last week.
“We had a good week last week,” interim coach Jim Crews said. “What conference play does is it keeps you on your toes.”
Two of last week’s wins held some historical value as well. SLU’s win at St. Bonaventure was its first in three tries, while the 75-58 triumph over No. 9 Butler was not only its first win over a top-10 opponent since 2003, but also its best ever against a ranked opponent.
“We’re starting to play defense the way that we should,” Ellis said after SLU’s win over Dayton. “I’m really happy that we’ve got all the momentum on the defensive end and our offense works from that.”
How good of a defensive stretch has this been for SLU? Consider this — since allowing 64 points in a narrow win over Duquesne, the Billikens have held their last three opponents under the 60-point mark, including a Butler team that averages 71 points per game and had just put up 83 against Temple.
“They had their way with us. They were clearly the best team and they absolutely deserved to win,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
To say the Bills had their way with the Bulldogs almost does not do their performance justice. For the game, SLU registered 14 steals and generated 26 points off a season-high 23 Butler turnovers. The Bulldogs finished the game shooting 43 percent from the field, but were just 9-for-24 in the first half.
“We were just getting stop after stop and just converting on offense, but it started on defense. That’s what we preach at practice is defense, defense,” junior Jordair Jett said, who registered two steals.
Playing less than 48 hours after its emotional win over Butler, SLU forced 21 turnovers, blocked five shots and registered 11 steals en route to an emphatic 81-52 win over Dayton.
“I’m proud, tickled, excited about how our guys responded because human nature is to let down a little bit,” Crews said. “I know what these kids hear and so for them to start like they started and sustain like they played on both ends was extremely pleasing.”
“They imposed their will,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “They’re physical, very good on the ball — the best on-ball defensive team in the country, maybe.”
Junior Dwayne Evans has been the catalyst for the team’s recent offensive surge, registering at least 14 points in his last four games.
“The most unheralded guy on their team — and I don’t say this out in public, it’s not my place — but I think Dwayne Evans may be one of the best players in our conference,” Miller said. “To me, he’s a first team all-conference guy right now.”
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of SLU’s recent run is the work of interim coach Jim Crews. His ability to dissect teams was on full display last week.
Prior to the game against Butler, he jokingly told reporters the matchup it presented was giving him a headache. By the end of the night, even Stevens admitted he admired the Bills’ performance.
“I absolutely loved the way they moved the ball,” Stevens said. “It was an absolute joy to watch one team play. The problem was, it wasn’t the team I coached.”
Against Dayton, not only did Crews keep his team focused on the task at hand, but he also hatched a plan for shutting down Flyers point guard Kevin Dillard.
“Coach told us to get into him, make him make plays and that was one of our competitive edges,” Mitchell said.
The latest win streak, which grew to five games following a win over Fordham, has the Billikens in the thick of the Atlantic 10 title race as they enter the final stretch.
“Everybody right now, individually and as a team, has one mission and that’s to win [an Atlantic 10] championship,” Mitchell said.