It was not easy, but Saint Louis University managed to win consecutive games for the first time this season, a 67-63 triumph over North Texas. The victory improved the Billikens to 5-3 on the year and 3-1 inside Chaifetz Arena.
“I’m extremely pleased and proud of our guys, how they stayed with it tonight,” interim coach Jim Crews said. “At times, we probably didn’t play particularly well at times, but we were playing guys that are pretty darn good players. We just never hung our head on it. We knew it was going to be 40 minutes. To use a boxing analogy, we won by a close decision and we’ll take that.”
Roger Franklin hit a pair of free throws to tie the score at 61 with 49 seconds left, but Jordair Jett responded for the Billikens, cutting through the defense for an easy lay-in to put the Billikens ahead for good.
Jett and senior forward Cody Ellis each finished with 17 points for the Billikens, who hit 20 of 25 free throws, including four crucial ones from Ellis down the stretch to ice the victory for SLU.
North Texas guard Chris Jones led all scorers 21 points to go with seven rebounds and seven assists.
Forward Tony Mitchell registered 14 of his 18 points in the game’s opening 20 minutes. He was silenced after the break; however, managing just five shots in the second half. While he was forced to sit out after picking up his fourth foul at the 10:35 mark, there was virtually no attempt to even get him the ball when he re-entered with 3:51 left.
“First half, I think I was playing him slow, I think I started off too soft,” forward Cory Remekun explained. “Second half, I decided to be more aggressive and make him try to drive past me, take tougher jump shots. I was looking forward to the challenge. He’s a real good player, but I was looking forward to the challenge.”
The Billikens appeared to seize control in the first half, using a 17-2 run to build a 10-point lead midway through, but their offense went ice cold, failing to register a field goal over the final eight minutes of the half.
North Texas took advantage, closing the half on a 15-5 run en route to a two-point 36-34 halftime lead.
“They were just playing harder than us,” Jett said. “We just didn’t have energy for a second. We were struggling to make shots and we just couldn’t get through our offense.”
Saint Louis came out of the break firing in the second half, using a 10-2 run, capped off by a 3-pointer from Jett to build a six-point lead just five minutes in.
“[Jett has] put more time into shooting than he ever has,” Crews said. “It was never part of his game, so he never concentrated on it. He hit some big shots for us. I don’t have a problem with him shooting (outside), let’s put it that way.”
“Coach has given me a little more freedom,” Jett said. “He’s told me to take a lot more shots, so I’m being a little more aggressive on offense.”
Remekun registered three blocks for Saint Louis, pushing his career total to 88 and moving him one ahead of former Billiken Matt Baniak for sixth most all-time.
The Billikens will have a 10-day break before UT-Martin invades Chaifetz Arena on Sat. Dec. 15. Tip-off is slated for 7 pm.