"I wasn't worried, because I knew we weren't going to lose this one," senior Brian Conklin said."
It was a tale of two halves. Fortunately for the home Saint Louis Billikens, the second half belonged to them.
After getting trailing 39-29 at halftime in a game utterly dominated by Xavier up until that point, the Billikens used a 24-3 run to upend the visitors and push the Musketeers towards a probable NIT berth.
Xavier freshman Dez Wells attempted to steal the show early, but on Senior Night, Conklin shined the brightest.
The 6-foot-6 Eugene, Ore. native poured in 23 points, including 15 in the second half.
The other Bills senior, Kyle Cassity, didn't start and saw just five minutes, but that was alright by him.
SLU head coach Rick Majerus confronted Cassity yesterday about being in the starting lineup, and the guard declined in favor of sophomore Mike McCall.
"He said he wanted to win," Majerus said.
Cassity's effort not to disrupt the flow seemed to go awry in the first frame, and SLU found itself in a double-digit hole. Within the first four minutes of the second half, however, the Bills narrowed the gap to just one point. A subsequent spurt put SLU on top for good, moving it to 23-6 overall and 11-4 in Atlantic 10 Conference play.
"We just wanted to build something up for the fans to take something with them," Conklin said sarcastically, referring to making the game dramatic. "It's our last one and we wanted the fans to remember it. Seriously, that was just a great defensive effort in the second half."
"The guys played their ass off," Majerus said.
He will remember these two seniors for quite some time to come.
"There's 350 schools playing," Majerus said, getting choked up. "There's no senior class in America that has its two seniors graduating with honors and an Academic All-American. . .you have no idea how hard it is to be an Academic All-American.
"These guys are student-athletes extraordinare," Majerus said. "Exemplar of what it means. . .I'm going to miss these guys more for the people they are than the player they are."
Conklin said in his postgame speech that he came to SLU wanting to create something special, and he may have finally found it in his senior season. The Billikens, barring a collapse, look like they will be dancing for the first time since 2000.
While Conklin and Cassity reminisced on what they would miss the most about playing at Chaifetz Arena, they toyed with redshirt junior guard Kwamain Mitchell.
Mitchell, who was also a part of their same recruiting class, joined the senior duo in the press room postgame.
One reporter quipped that Mitchell had one year left before he was going to be in this situation and asked if he had started thinking about what it would be like.
"You better not start thinking about what it's going to be like a year from now," Conklin interrupted. "We've still got a month left."
With a win tonight over Xavier, the Billikens moved closer to the goal of playing into March.