But the Billikens got going late in the first half and took control in the final 17 minutes of their non-conference contest and rolled to a 78-50 victory in front of 5,384 fans at Chaifetz Arena.
“Four freshmen and Paul Eckerle are the guys that gave us a lift,” SLU coach Rick Majerus said.
The four freshmen — guards Jordair Jett and Mike McCall and forwards Dwayne Evans and Rob Loe — combined for 38 points, 17 rebounds, 11 assists and eight steals as the Billikens improved to 2-2 on the season.
McCall had 15 points, six assists and three steals, all team highs, in 29 minutes off the bench. Jett added 11 points, three assists and two steals. Evans had seven points, eight rebounds and two steals. Loe, who had a team-high 19 points in the loss against Georgia on Saturday, finished with five points and six rebounds.
Eckerle, a redshirt junior who missed last season with a knee injury and did not play against Georgia, scored nine points on three-of-three shooting from 3-point range.
“Eckerle gave us a big lift,” Majerus said. “He’s bumblebee-ish. Like a bumblebee isn’t supposed to fly and Eckerle shouldn’t be able to cover those guys, but he’s just a tough kid. Why I didn’t play him against Georgia, I don’t know. I must be an idiot.”
Tennessee State (1-4), who entered the game with a win over Fisk and losses to Mississippi State, Illinois State and Air Force, got off to a quick start in the first half.
The Tigers, who got 21 points from Robert Covington and 11 from Kenny Moore, led 11-2 after sinking three 3-pointers in the first six minutes and continued to shoot the ball well in the first half.
Tennessee State made 11 of 19 shots (57.9 percent) in the first half and knocked down five of seven from 3-point range (71.4) percent after entering Tuesday’s game shooting 29.9 percent on 3-pointers.
“I think we came out at the start with just no intensity basically,” said SLU sophomore forward Cody Ellis, who added 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench. “Then as we subbed a couple guys in they brought intensity to the court and I think that helped keep us in the game.”
Saint Louis used a 9-0 run late in the first half, including two putbacks and a free throw from Evans, to take the lead for the first time on the night. After junior guard Kyle Cassity (nine points) scored on a drive to the hoop with 5 seconds remaining, the Billikens took a 33-29 lead into halftime.
Tennessee State scored the first seven points of the second half, but then Saint Louis really got it going on both ends of the floor.
A 3-pointer from Cassity with 18:32 left in the second half tied the score at 36-36. From that point on, the Billikens outscored the Tigers 42-14.
McCall turned a steal from Jett into a layup with 17 seconds remaining to give SLU its largest lead of the game at 28 points.
Saint Louis made 16 of 26 shots (61.5 percent) in the second half, including six of eight from 3-point range (75 percent), and finished the game shooting better on 3-pointers (56.3 percent) than overall field goals (52.7 percent).
The Billikens return to action at 1 p.m. on Saturday against visiting Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) at Chaifetz Arena. That will be the fifth consecutive home game for SLU, which will then play at Portland on Tuesday.