Billikens Crack National Top Ten
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Saint Louis just keeps piling up the wins.
The Billikens are ranked No. 10 this week, moving into the top-10 for the first time in nearly 50 years. It is hard-earned recognition for a school closing in on a second straight Atlantic 10 Conference title.
“They’re a terrific team,” coach Shaka Smart of second-place VCU said after losing 64-62 on Saturday. “They have all the elements — great coaching, very good talent, experience.”
The Billikens, who have won a school-record 17 games in a row, moved up two spots from the previous week. The ranking is the school’s best since it was No. 9 in the poll on Dec. 29, 1964.
“I think we’re good,” guard Jordair Jett said. “But we’ve got a lot of room for improvement, so we’re going to take it day by day.”
That’s a typical reaction from players and coach Jim Crews, in his second season after taking over for the late Rick Majerus. After the VCU win, Crews was unapologetic about leaning on “coach speak,” as in taking it one game at a time.
“I like our position,” Crews said. “The kids are doing unbelievably good.”
Saint Louis is 23-2 overall and 10-0 in the Atlantic 10 with a three-game lead heading into Wednesday’s game at George Mason. The school is seeking a second straight conference title.
The 10-0 conference start is one win shy of the school mark set in the 1946-47 season when Saint Louis was in the Missouri Valley.
“We were playing high level basketball last year and we are this year, too,” Evans said. “We’ll try to keep it rolling.”
Experience has been a key. Crews has five senior starters led by Evans, coming off his sixth double-double, and Jett, a guard who has been a force inside and out.
Saint Louis has the stingiest defense in the conference, allowing 60 points per game.
The starters all played 33 or more minutes against VCU and responded to a late surge. Saint Louis squandered a 12-point lead, but after VCU tied it late, the Billikens scored seven consecutive points to put the game out of reach.
“Coach kept telling us, ‘Don’t let up,'” Jett said. “He knows and we know.”
The VCU win was the fourth by two or fewer points during the streak. A fifth — George Mason at home earlier this month — was decided in overtime.
“I think it’s been a great character trait of our guys that they do respond,” Crews said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to win all the time. They don’t quit on things. Even if we would have lost, they didn’t quit on things.”
Saint Louis had its first sellout of the season against VCU, setting an attendance record of 10,639 at the Chaifetz Arena.
“Playing VCU is always fun,” Evans said. “It was a good crowd, a good environment. Having the arena full like that, and everyone involved, it definitely gives us energy.
“It’s like the fans are out there with us.”
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