But this time it was Dayton, which had lost three straight to SLU, that made the difference-making plays down the stretch to pull out a 60-50 victory in front of 7,621 at Chaifetz Arena.
“Give St. Louis a ton of credit,” Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. “We always talk to our guys about battling through some adversity and that’s what really makes a man, makes a team and so forth and obviously they’ve had their share of it. … The team played hard. They are young, they struggle at times to make plays here and there but they are going to be really good and they gave us everything they had.”
That’s little consolation to a Saint Louis (5-9 overall, 0-1 in A-10) squad that has now lost four straight games and seven of its last eight.
The Billikens took the floor on Wednesday night without coach Rick Majerus, who is out after suffering an infection from a cut on his leg sustained on Saturday, and played better.
But better isn’t good enough for them or for associate head coach Porter Moser, who coached the team for the third straight game and will be in charge for at least the next two road games.
“We struggle with points and we have to keep striving for consistency with points,” Moser said. “The one thing that is so positive and makes you feel good about this program is I do believe these guys aren’t satisfied with better. I believe that they are going to come back and invest more time in scouting. We’re going to be well-prepared when we go to Temple.”
SLU junior guard Kyle Cassity was asked following Wednesday’s game if his expectations for this season had changed because of the adversity the team has had to deal with — including the suspension of its top two players, Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed, before the season and now losing Majerus for a stretch of games.
“This is my third year here and all I’ve heard since I’ve been here is we’re young and maybe next year and I’m tired of hearing that,” Cassity said. “My expectations haven’t changed. I’m here to win. We’re not doing it right now.”
The Billikens had a chance to do that on Wednesday after overcoming a rough start where Dayton (13-3, 1-0) scored the first seven points of the game as Saint Louis missed its first 10 shots.
“We just didn’t make shots and we didn’t guard them early,” Cassity said. “Then later in the game that’s actually what kept us in it was our defense. We just dug ourselves an early hole.”
Dayton, which was led by forward Chris Wright’s 14 points and 14 rebounds, established a 33-22 lead at halftime and led by as many as 15 points in the second half.
The Billikens charged back, put together a 7-0 run at one point and slowly chipped away at the lead. Saint Louis cut the deficit to six points, on a 3-pointer by sophomore forward Cody Ellis and then on a free throw by freshman guard Jordair Jett with 1 minute and 46 seconds left, but couldn’t get any closer.
“We knew with our game plan that we could stop them,” junior guard Paul Eckerle said. “We had the right type of game plan to stop them defensively. It wasn’t a matter of knocking down shots, it was a matter of keep getting those defensive stops.”
SLU didn’t score again until freshman guard Mike McCall converted a putback with 16 seconds left, but it was too little too late on this night.
Dayton had three players in double figures: Wright (14), forward Chris Johnson (13) and guard Paul Williams (12). Freshman point guard Juwan Staten had eight points and eight rebounds.
Saint Louis got 11 points from McCall, nine points and seven rebounds from freshman forward Rob Loe and eight points from Brian Conklin.
“Last year if we were defending, we had a chance in every game, even when we didn’t shoot it,” Moser said. “If we shot it really well, we pretty much won the games last year because we were defending. If we didn’t shoot well, we had a chance. We had an opportunity tonight because we were defended better than we have. Did we defend good enough? No. But we defended better than we have. Points are so hard with this team.”