On the most somber of days at Chaifetz Arena, the St. Louis University Billikens took the floor less than 24 hours after learning that their former coach, Rick Majerus, had passed away after a long battle with heart disease.
The Billikens wore black shirts during warm-ups and black stripes on their jerseys in Majerus' honor. But the team's play on the court served as the perfect offering to Majerus' legacy.
SLU defeated Valparaiso 62-49 and did it in classic Majerus style, combining pinpoint shooting with a suffocating defensive effort.
Valparaiso came into St. Louis on a roll, having won five of the team's first six games. The scouting report said the Crusaders would be a tough matchup for the Billikens.
With SLU down to just three healthy guards, the last thing they needed to see was an opponent's rotation give heavy minutes to a backcourt that runs five-deep.
With SLU's low-post defense being more offensive than anything resembling defense, the last thing Billiken fans wanted to see was an opponent whose two best weapons are their power forwards.
Playing with heavy hearts, SLU helped Billiken fans say goodbye to Majerus with a near-perfectly executed game plan.
Dwayne Evans led the Billikens with 17 points. Evans acknowledged in a postgame interview with Scott Highmark from Fox Sports Midwest that he must be the team's low-post scoring threat, and he came through with a virtual flawless performance. Evans was 5-for-6 from the field, adding five rebounds and a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line.
Jordair Jett returned to the starting lineup with a thunder, scoring 14 points while leading the team in rebounds (6) and assists (7).
The Billikens shot nearly 53 percent from the field in the first half, while limiting the Crusaders to only 38 percent.
The Billikens called and raised themselves in the game's second half, shooting 59 percent while holding Valparaiso to a ridiculously low 28 percent success rate from the field.
The Crusaders' leading scorers, Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk, had combined to average 33 points coming into Sunday's game. The Billikens limited the Horizon League All-Conference first-teamers to just 20 total points on a combined 6-for-17 shooting from the field.
Valparaiso made one more three-point field goal (5) than SLU (4), but they attempted more than twice as many shots (21-9).
SLU outscored Valparaiso 30-18 in the paint. While the Billikens' gave up far too many turnover (18) for such a disciplined team, they managed to lead the Crusaders 20-13 in points scored off them.
It was a total team effort for SLU, as they now look to build on Sunday's effort and continue to rack up wins during the team's December homestand.
The Billikens (4-3) return to action on Wednesday night, where they face the North Texas Mean Green (3-5) in a 7 p.m. (CT) tipoff. The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Midwest.
SLU will look to net consecutive victories for the first time this season, after battling through a seesaw of wins and losses for the first seven games.
Breaking Down North Texas
SLU has not faired well this season when having to defend against a do-it-all offensive weapon capable of creating his own shot.
The Billikens failed against Kansas' Travis Releford, Santa Clara's Kevin Foster and most recently, Washington's C.J. Wilcox.
SLU will have the chance to redeem their defensive reputation against the Mean Green's superstar forward, Tony Mitchell.
Mitchell (6'8", 235 lbs) is just a sophomore, but the accolades are flying at him in massive amounts.
Mitchell can score (13.6 per game this season), rebound (8.3 per game) and block shots (2.9 per game). Those numbers are really a mirage, as Mitchell is capable of so much more after averaging a double-double in 23 games last year.
Mitchell also has solid hands (1.6 steals this season) and he can hit a three when needed. He is the one man capable of taking over a game and the one man SLU cannot let get into a rhythm Wednesday night.
If the Billikens are able to slow down Mitchell, they still must also pay careful attention to the Mean Green's other offensive options.
Fellow sophomore Chris Jones (6'2", 202 lbs) leads the North Texas attack alongside Mitchell, averaging 11.1 points and 5.4 assists per game so far this season.
Jones can also handle his own on the defensive end, averaging 2.1 steals and 3.6 rebounds per game this year.
Junior guard Alzee Williams is the team's wild card. Williams (6'4", 180 lbs) is big enough to cause matchup problems on the smaller Billiken guards. He is also aggressive with the ball and will look to drive on whomever he's facing.
Depth in the frontcourt is waning for the Mean Green, as Mitchell is the only true forward among the team's top five in minutes played.
Roger Franklin (6'5", 220 lbs) is capable of playing down low and his 6.4 rebounding average is second to Mitchell on the team.
SLU should be able to take advantage of a North Texas rotation that rarely sees anyone taller than 6'8".
The Billikens should look to feed the ball down low to Evans and Cory Remekun. Rob Loe should also look to get off the wing and into the paint for some potentially easy buckets.
If the Billikens limit the turnovers and make the extra pass to navigate the suspect North Texas defense, this game should very early on be solidly in Billikens' favor.
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