ST. LOUIS – Senior Brian Conklin put on a show in his final game at Chaifetz Arena, racking up 23 points and six rebounds to help Saint Louis University knock off Xavier 70-59 Tuesday night. The victory improves the Billikens to 11-4 in the Atlantic 10 and guarantees them a first-round bye in the A-10 tournament.
SLU’s halftime deficit may have been just 10 points, but they looked like a team on the verge of a total collapse after the first 20 minutes. Their long-range shooters hit just two of 12 three-pointers, while their usually airtight defense had allowed the Musketeers to shoot 52% from the floor.
“In the first half, they were tentative offensively,” SLU coach Rick Majerus said in an interview with Post Dispatch writer Tom Timmerman. “They don’t understand that your defense drives your offense, so we had a bit of complacency defensively.”
Playing in front of the second largest crowd in the four-year history of Chaifetz Arena, the Billikens roared back from a 10-point halftime deficit, outscoring the Musketeers 30-9 over the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Perhaps the biggest turning point of the game came when Dezmine Wells missed a dunk five minutes into the second half that would have given Xavier a three-point lead.
Earl Austin Jr. called it an omen during the radio broadcast and sure enough, SLU grabbed its first lead of the night on the very next possession behind a lay-up from Conklin.
Xavier attempted to stage a late comeback, cutting the score to 64-54 with two minutes left, but Conklin responded with a jumper to drive in the final dagger for SLU.
Things went so well in the second half for SLU that Majerus was even able to call a timeout with two seconds left to sub out his two seniors, Conklin and Kyle Cassity, and let them get a standing ovation from the energetic crowd.
“I knew we weren’t going to lose this one,” he said. “I definitely wasn’t going to go out with a loss. That wasn’t going to happen, so I was not worried at all [at halftime].”
Cassity, who, to avoid upsetting the team’s rotation, turned down an opportunity to start in his final home game, chalked Tuesday’s victory up to a strong defensive performance.
“It was all defense,” he said. “We didn’t do much different on offense. We hit some shots, but defensively, we just stopped them.”
Kwamain Mitchell headed to the locker room early in the second half after a collision with a Xavier defender left him disoriented. He returned with about four minutes left and finished the game with 14 points. Mike McCall also scored in double figures for the Billikens, who finished the game shooting 38% from the floor and 28% from behind the arc.
Dezmine Wells finished recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Xavier, who out-rebounded the Billikens 34-30.
If Temple wins tonight, they will clinch the A-10 tournament outright. If they lose, however, SLU could grab at least a share of the title with a victory Saturday morning against Duquesne. Tip-off in that game is scheduled for 11 am in Pittsburgh.
Quotes via STLToday.com
Hank’s Sports Blog will be giving away a free University of Missouri flag, compliments of the fine folks over at CVS Flags.
To enter, all you have to do is either follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook! It’s that easy! If you follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook, then you’ll be entered twice.