Less than 24 hours after the passing of Rick Majerus due to heart failure, the Saint Louis Billikens stepped onto the Chaifetz Arena floor to take on a Valparaiso team pegged as one of the favorites to win the Horizon League.
Given the talent of players such as Ryan Broekhoff and Erik Buggs, this was a dangerous game for Saint Louis even before the tragic news of their former coach passing away.
They weren’t at their best early but the Billikens rebounded in the first half, going on to beat the Crusaders by the final score of 62-49. Dwayne Evans led three Saint Louis players in double figures and as a team SLU shot 55.6% from the field, which helped make up for their 18 turnovers.
Jordair Jett added 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the win, and defensively Saint Louis forced 18 Valparaiso turnovers and limited the Crusaders to 32.6% shooting. Valparaiso attempted 21 of their 46 field goal from beyond the arc, and when a team makes just five of those shots at the Crusaders did they’re in trouble.
Jim Crews’ Billikens were even better defensively in the second half, holding Valparaiso to 28% shooting and harassing them into 11 turnovers.
Broekhoff, the reigning Horizon League Player of the Year, made just four of his 12 shots from the field and finished with ten points and Buggs shot 2-of-8. Kevin Van Wijk and Matt Kenney joined Broekhoff in double figures, scoring ten points apiece.
But for all the statistics and the analysis of what Saint Louis will need to improve upon if they’re to contend in the Atlantic 10, Sunday’s game was about far more than the result.
Majerus won 517 games as a head coach at Marquette, Ball State, Utah and Saint Louis, but a look at the many stories and quotes from those who shared time with him reveals feelings far deeper than wins and losses.
For that reason it’s probably appropriate that Crews wouldn’t dedicate this result to Majerus.