No. 10 Billikens escape overtime scare in Fairfax

FAIRFAX, Va. — For the second time this month, No. 10 Saint Louis got all that it could handle from George Mason, but for the second time this month it managed to stave off the upset-minded Patriots, claiming an 89-85 overtime victory.

With the win, SLU improved its overall record to 24-2, while maintaining its perfect record both on the road (10-0) and within the conference (11-0).

“Well, they’ve got really good players and I think they’re really well set up. They’ve got quick guys, and they’ve got physical guys. They’re well-schooled,” SLU coach Jim Crews said. “Two overtimes? It’s not like we’ve got any magic on those guys. Just fortunate.”

All five of the senior starters finished in double figures for Saint Louis, led by Jordair Jett who had a team-high 25 points and eight assists, and McCall who had 16 points—11 of which came in the first half. Barnett (14) and Loe (13) each picked up 12 of their points from behind the arc, while Evans hit five of 10 shots from the field for 13 points.

All five players finished with a steal, but Loe was the only one to stuff the stat sheet, picking up five boards, five assists, a steal and a block.

“Jordair and Rob Loe are really, really smart basketball players,” Crews said. “They do so many things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. Sometimes I can’t see it, then I’ll notice it when I watch film… [Jett] and Rob made some really big plays for us tonight—shots in particularly.”

The Patriots were led by Sherrod White, who netted a career-high 34 points.

George Mason grabbed a seven-point lead early in the second half, but came up empty on its next six possessions, which allowed the Billikens to slowly work their way back into the game—twice they sliced the margin to just one, but both times a defensive lapse allowed GMU to re-extend its lead.

After its first two comeback attempts fell flat, SLU finally managed to break through with a steal-and-score by Jett that pulled the team to within one with nine minutes remaining.

“They took us to the wire last time as well,” Loe said. “We just knew we had to keep fighting and working hard.”

That one-point advantage seemed to alternate sides with each possession over the next five minutes as Jett waged war with the Patriots, matching them bucket for bucket until he finally managed to up the ante with a 3-pointer to give Saint Louis a 60-58 advantage with 5:11 remaining.

“[Jett is] impossible to stop,” Loe said of his teammate. “It’s hard for any coach to come up with a game plan to stop him. I wouldn’t be able to, that’s for sure.”

Not to be outdone, Wright responded with his team’s next 13 points before Jalen Jenkins finished off the rally by drawing a foul against Evans—his fifth of the game—and knocking down the ensuing free throws to give George Mason a 73-72 lead with five seconds remaining.

As SLU sent in Austin McBroom and John Manning for Barnett and Evans, respectively, GMU set its defense knowing full well what SLU’s plan of attack was to get the ball into Jett and let him attempt the game-winning shot.

For Saint Louis, steps one and two were executed to perfection. Loe hurled the ball halfway up the court to Jett, who caught the pass and began his frantic drive towards the basket. However, he was fouled as he went up for the shot, meaning he would have to earn the final points of regulation from the charity stripe.

“I should have made the first one—it was a little long,” Jett said. “I knew I was making the second one though. The first one felt like it should have gone in, so I knew the second one was going in.”

After turnovers allowed George Mason to take an early four-point lead in the extra session, SLU settled in and caught fire. Loe ignited the offensive onslaught with a pair of triples, one off a feed from Jett and the other compliments of McCall.

“I knew they were going to trap me in the ball screen and I knew I was going to hit Rob. I told him, ‘You better hit this shot,’” Jett explained. “I knew he was going to be open so I told him to be ready to shoot. He hit two big threes and we just didn’t look back after that.”

Erik Copes knotted the score at 79 on the ensuing possession, but Jett retaliated with four straight points for Saint Louis, before McCall knocked in a layup of his own to cap off the mini 6-0 run with 45 seconds remaining.

GMU made one final surge in the dying seconds of overtime, but its rally fell short and Saint Louis was able to escape unscathed.

“I thought we did everything we could to win that game,” George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. “We just didn’t make enough plays.”

SLU bounced back from a rocky first half shooting performance, knocking in 18 of 28 shots over the final 25 minutes to finish the game at 51.9 percent overall. The Billikens were hot from behind the arc finishing 12 for 25, but struggled once again at the line where they hit just 21 of 35 free throws.

Defensively, they allowed the Patriots to shoot nearly 50 percent from the field and win the battle on the glass 37-30. Saint Louis did, however, generate 23 points off 14 turnovers.

“We’ve had fortunate breaks and they’ve not had fortunate breaks,” Crews said. “But we played well and really hung in there and made one or two plays more than them.”

Evans gave the Billikens a five-point lead late in the first half with a layup that finished off a 6-1 run but then they fell flat, registering just one field goal over the final four minutes, which allowed Mason to claw its way back and take a 35-32 advantage at the break.

SLU finished the half shooting 38.5 percent from the field with six 3-pointers on 16 tries. It managed to hit six of its 10 free throw attempts, but allowed GMU to shoot over 52 percent from the floor.

“We’re so old now that we’ve been through these close games,” Loe said. “I remember our freshman year we weren’t losing by much, but we were losing all the close ones. I think that we’re in our mindset that we can win the close ones. We execute well down the stretch and don’t let that mess with our heads.”

Saint Louis will put its unblemished conference record on the line this Saturday against George Washington (20-6, 8-4). Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.