A valiant effort: Billikens end season with NCAA appearance

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A valiant effort: Billikens end season with NCAA appearance

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The clock has struck midnight and the season is over, but the valiant effort in the 65-61 loss against Michigan State closes one of the most successful seasons in Billikens basketball season in recent memory.

Senior Brian Conklin played his last game in a Billiken uniform in a loss to Michigan State. Emily Diehl / Associate Multimedia Director

The Bills conclude this year with a 26-8 record, ending in the third round in the NCAA tournament. The team was briefly nationally ranked for the first time since the 1993-94 season. The Billikens defeated teams this season like: Washington, Xavier, Villanova and Memphis.

“We fought our guts out. They’re a terrific team. I don’t know that we could have played better,” Head Coach Rick Majerus said.

The Bills opened the season on a six-game winning streak and won the 76 Classic over the Thanksgiving holiday. After winning the 76 Classic, the team found itself in the Associated Press Top 25, but they quickly fell off the list after a loss to Loyola Marymount.

After losing to Loyola Marymount, the Bills won another six-straight games. Majerus got his 500th victory as a head coach against Illinois-Springfield, and the Bills were 12-1 going into The Pit at New Mexico.

After the 12-1 start, the Bills then dropped three out of four games against New Mexico, Dayton and Temple, making the Bills fall to a 13-4 record. After three more wins including a 73-68 win against Xavier, the Bills dropped another game in the Atlantic 10 against Massachusetts, making their overall record 16-5 at the time.

The Bills then won another six-straight games but then suffered a last-second loss to Rhode Island on the road, but the Bills concluded the regular season beating Xavier and Duquesne and holding a 24-6 record.

In conference tournament play, the Bills received a first-round bye, placing second the A-10 conference standings for the regular season. The Bills defeated Duquesne in the A-10 quarterfinals, but they were then defeated by Xavier in the A-10 semifinals.

After a 25-7 record, the Bills then were declared a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament and faced Memphis in the first round. The Bills had not received a tournament bid since 2000. The Bills defeated the Tigers 61-54 to give them their first win in the NCAA tournament since 1998.

However, the Bills’ season ended with a 65-61 loss to Michigan State. They briefly lead in the first half and pulled within 2 points in the second half, but they could not regain the lead as Michigan State escaped with a victory and moved on to the Sweet 16.

“He’s a great coach. I couldn’t imagine playing for a better coach, a better person. He doesn’t just teach you about basketball, it’s about life.” Brian Conklin said.

In Majerus’ fifth year, SLU has begun the rebuilding process to become nationally relevant.

Majerus only loses two players in Conklin and Kyle Cassity, but he will have four returning starters.

During the games against Memphis and Michigan State, Saint Louis, Kwamain Mitchell and Jordair Jett were trending nationally on Twitter.

The team will bring in two recruits next season in Jared Drew from Indianapolis and Keith Carter from Chicago.

The future looks very bright for the Billikens basketball team with national spotlight, a well-known head coach, four returning starters and two of the best recruits Majerus has gotten to come to SLU. The team is only looking up for next season and hopefully years to follow.