BROOKLYN, N.Y.– Saint Louis was poised, calm, and in control of the tempo for nearly 30 minutes of game time in Sunday’s Atlantic 10 championship at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Then Virginia Commonwealth’s signature “Havoc” defense hit like a storm, turning a 13-point Saint Louis lead at the 11:45 mark of the second half into a one-point game with 8:53 to play.
But after that flurry of turnovers, it was back to Saint Louis’ senior leaders Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis to seal the A-10 championship with a 62-56 win and an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
Mitchell was the biggest key for Saint Louis on Sunday, finishing with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go along with three steals. Ellis came alive in the second half after going scoreless in the first, scoring nine points, including key three-pointers down the stretch in the second half. His shot with 2:18 to play pushed the lead to six points, 57-51.
Saint Louis has now won the Atlantic 10 regular season championship and tournament championship in a year that was full of obstacles, including the death of former coach Rick Majerus.
“Rick’s footprints, fingerprints, his lessons are embedded in those guys,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “Because they’ve taught me things and brought light to this or that and when they take ownership like that, you have a chance to be a pretty good team.
“It would be great to say, ‘Hey this is for Rick, this is for Rick, this is for Rick, but…i just don’t buy into that,” he continued. “Rick’s life and friendship and his coaching the relationships that he had and the people he touched are a lot bigger than winning a game or winning a championship or having a good year.”
Mitchell, part of the group of seniors who he says felt compelled to help the team through the struggle, spoke about Majerus’ impact and legacy after the win.
“The quick reaction is to weep and feel sorry,” said Mitchell. “Coach Majerus meant a big part of the program and individually, including me.
“We didn’t let stuff like that affect the way that coach would want us to play. I could just hear him up there yelling with joy and just being part of a great group of guys.”
Saint Louis now waits for word Sunday of where it will be placed in the 2013 NCAA tournament.