The entire college basketball world began to take notice of the Saint Louis University Billikens on Friday evening. The Billikens (21-5, 10-2) left fans chanting “this is our house,” as they walked out of Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse with a 65-61 victory. The No. 15 Bulldogs (22-6, 9-4) came out strong, but the Billikens eventually had an answer for everything Butler coach Brad Stevens threw at them, and swept the season series against Butler, backing up their blowout of the Bulldogs in Chaifetz.
Freshman Kellen Dunham cam out firing for the Bulldogs, pulling the Bulldogs ahead 15-9, forcing interim head coach Jim Crews to call a time out to calm his squad.
The Bulldogs continued their roll though, pulling ahead 17-9 after another two by Dunham down the lane. Led by junior Jordair Jett, the Bills were able to play themselves back into the game though. Seven straight points by Jett pulled the Billikens to within 22-20 late in the half.
SLU struggled offensively, shooting 11-31 in the first half, including 1-9 from behind the arc. Shot selection and rebounding were an issue for the Billikens, as the Butler defense stifled the Billiken attack.
The second half was an entirely different story though.
SLU came out firing in the second half, keyed by senior guard Kwamain Mitchell’s six early points. His lay-in over Butler Center Andrew Smith at the 17:21 mark put the Billikens ahead 37-36, and they didn’t look back.
“We jumped out quick and got some big buckets inside,” coach Crews said.
SLU continued its second-half surge, jumping out to a 48-41 lead after another Mitchell layup. Mitchell scored eight of his 10 points in the second half.
The Bulldogs kept attacking the Bills’ lead, but SLU had an answer for everything Butler threw its way. Junior Mike McCall Jr. hit a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 51-44.
Roosevelt Jones made a layup to pull the Bulldogs within one, 57-56, setting up a wild five minutes of play at Hinkle. An offensive rebound by guard Jordair Jett led to a lay-in by junior Dwayne Evans to make it 59-56.
A tip-in by Evans at 1:20 gave the Billikens a 63-58 lead.
SLU was unable to put it away in the last minute though, as Evans, Mitchell, and McCall all missed key free throws down the stretch. McCall did manage to make two free throws on his last trip to the line, giving the Billikens a 65-61 lead.
Perhaps Butler coach Brad Stevens summed it up best:
“That’s a heck of a basketball team. They can go as far as they want to go,” he said.