Saint Louis falters in battle for first, La Salle grabs nail-biter

By Matt Levine

The Saint Louis men’s basketball team, former top dog of the Atlantic 10 fell short to UMass (16-5, 5-2 A-10) and its packed house at the Mullins Center, 72-59, on Saturday.

The score was tight in the opening, but the Billikens (16-5, 4-3 A-10) lost all control on defense after the eight-minute, 18-second mark in the first half. The Minutemen went on a 22-5 run to end the half, which gave it some necessary breathing room.

The Billikens were down 45-26 at halftime, which, at 19 points, is the largest halftime deficit Saint Louis has suffered this season. The Billikens had difficulty taming UMass’ duo of sophomore forward Raphiael Putney and sophomore guard Chaz Williams, as the pair combined for 41 of the Minutemen’s 72 points in addition to countless other baskets they contributed to with assists and rebounds.

Saint Louis went on a slew of modest runs in the second half and even cut the Minutemen lead to five points, but UMass ended the game with a commanding 7-0 run, sealing the 13-point win.

At 16-5 overall and 4-3 in the A-10, the Billikens lost control of first place, but according to Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s bracketologist, is still a strong contender for a spot in the NCAA Tournament in March.

Saint Louis will be back on the court when they play host to St. Bonaventure tonight.

First place La Salle off to historic start

As far as road wins go, La Salle’s win over Duquesne on Saturday was as tough as they come. The Explorers (16-6, 5-2 A-10) overcame a nine-point deficit in the second half along to outlast the Dukes, 71-68.

After trailing 47-38 with 13:15 remaining in the game , La Salle went on a 17-4 run over a four-minute span to transform the score into a 55-51 advantage. The lead grew to as large as seven points in the second half, but with 1:23 to play, Duquesne (3-4, 12-9) knotted the score at 66 thanks to a 7-0 run.

The lead was back up to three after two clutch free throws from sophomore guard Sam Mills with only seven seconds left. The Dukes last second heave to tie the game was denied when sophomore guard Tyreek Duren blocked the attempt.

With the win and a 5-2 conference record, the Explorers are off to its best start through seven games in conference play since joining the A-10.  Although it is tied for first place in the A-10 with Massachusetts and St. Bonaventure, Joe Lunardi has La Salle out of the big dance if the season ended today.

The Explorers will try to bolster its resume tonight, when it hosts Charlotte.

Disappointing Xavier back to winning ways

After starting the season ranked 14th in the country, Xavier lived up to that prediction early on, winning its first eight games. However after its infamous brawl with Cincinnati, the Musketeers have not looked the same.

Xavier (14-7, 5-3 A-10) lost three straight contests following the brawl, while the multitude of suspensions were in full swing and has lost seven of its last 13 games.

The Musketeers did, however, win its most recent game against Charlotte (10-10, 2-5 A-10) on Saturday to avoid its second three-game losing streak of the season. Xavier defeated Charlotte 74-70 in a close battle against a lesser opponent.

Xavier senior guard Tu Holloway was its leading scorer with 17 points and dished out seven dimes along the way.  Despite not playing its best basketball over the last couple of weeks, the Musketeers’ win over Charlotte mark its second road win in its last three attempts.

Joe Lunardi has Xavier as high as an 11 seed in the tournament if the season ended today. Although the team hasn’t lived up to expectations, the conference’s mediocrity may be enough to save them a spot in the tournament.

The Musketeers return to the court tonight to take on George Washington.

Matt Levine can be reached at [email protected].