After winning 28 games and the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament titles a season ago, No. 13 Saint Louis had two personnel losses to account for. Gone were two of their three double-digit scorers in Cody Ellis and Kwamain Mitchell, and those certainly aren’t departures to be glossed over. However the Billikens did return four of their top six scorers, led by forward Dwayne Evans Jr., and for that reason Jim Crews’ team was expected to once again be right in the middle of the Atlantic 10 title race.
Evans (as he did last season) is leading Saint Louis in scoring, but if there’s a key play to be made late the ball will most likely be in the hands of fellow senior Jordair Jett. And against La Salle that was the case with Jett using a flat ball screen at the top of the key to get to the basket, finishing with four seconds remaining to give the Billikens the 65-63 win. Saint Louis has now win 16 straight games, establishing a new school record.
Jett finished the game with a season-high 25 points to go along with four assists, connecting on nine of his 14 shots from the field and shooting 7-for-9 from the foul line. And he epitomizes this Saint Louis team: not much flash, but certainly not lacking for results either. Saint Louis shot just 2-for-13 from beyond the arc against La Salle but they were able to make plays inside, scoring 42 of their 65 points in the paint.
La Salle was slightly better in this category, scoring 44 points in the paint with Jerrell Wright (21 points, eight rebounds) and Steve Zack (15 points, 13 rebounds) both being productive interior options, and the Explorers remained in the game throughout for that very reason. But guards Tyreek Duren (14 points) and Tyrone Garland (six points) combined to shoot just 7-for 21 from the field, with Saint Louis’ perimeter defense forcing challenged looks for much of the afternoon. And in the end, it was Jett who proved to be the difference-maker.
Saint Louis is off to the best start in school history, and their win streak is also a program best with SLU’s last defeat coming against No. 4 Wichita State back in December. With their ability to defend Saint Louis has the potential to be a tough out come March, and when the chips are down they’ve got a player in Jett makes all the right decisions.