Cassity Stepping Up For Saint Louis

Kyle Cassity (SLU photo)

Even if Kyle Cassity's offense isn't outstanding, his defense is getting plenty of attention as Saint Louis makes its late-season run into the upper echelon of the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Cassity routinely gets put on the opponents' top scorer, in part because he's the only one who can handle some of the high scorers the A-10 has, even if he's giving away speed and athleticism in many cases. But he's learned valuable lessons about being in the right place to take advantage of that.

"Early in the year, I was a little slow and was getting beat on some defensive things, and my offense wasn't there either, and that's not a very good combination," the sophomore said. "Lately, the defense has been stepping up and the offense has been coming around, so I just have to keep going in that direction."

Cassity's offense has shown an uptick in recent games, and even though he made just two of 10 shots in SLU's loss to Xavier on Wednesday, he drew praise from coach Rick Majerus for taking a bad shot in the game. Majerus has been trying so hard to get the reluctant Cassity to shoot that he's told Cassity there's no such thing as a bad shot.

"I was happy to see him take it," Majerus said.

There are two other ways Cassity is making a big contribution to the team. He's almost always on the court, playing upwards of 35 minutes in the game, and he's one of the Billikens' surer ball-handlers and creators, with a consistently solid assist-to-turnover ratio.

"When I recruited him, this is what I thought he would be," Majerus said. "Better maybe, and I think he's going to get better. He's really cerebral, he sees the game. He understands all the players. He's very understated. He has the quiet eye of the tiger."

XAVIER 73, SAINT LOUIS 71:

The Billikens came back from a 13-point deficit to cut Xavier's lead to two points with a minute to play, but they couldn't get any closer. Kwamain Mitchell missed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left that would have put SLU ahead. The loss snapped SLU's six-game win streak but they remain among the league's leaders at 9-4 in the Atlantic 10 (18-9 overall).

Willie Reed finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds for SLU, but he missed seven of nine free throws, including six straight at one point. SLU had a season-low six turnovers. The Billikens led by seven in the first half before getting worn down by the older, more experienced Musketeers (20-7, 11-2).

Mitchell scored 21 points for SLU, and Cody Ellis had 19.

NOTES, QUOTES

- To think Saint Louis would have finished in the top four at the beginning of the season would have been close to unfathomable, as the Billikens have no seniors or juniors on their active roster. Yet they are now among the elite teams in what has been a strong year for the Atlantic 10.

"We are what we are," coach Rick Majerus said. "We're playing our (rear ends) off. I really enjoy the guys. We'll get better, too. The guys we have will get better and we have more help on the way."

"We have a tough road, but we're very confident now," sophomore guard Kyle Cassity said.

- Saint Louis shot a season-best 80 percent from the free-throw line in its 69-56 victory at Massachusetts on Feb. 21, making 12 of 15 attempts.

ON THE SPOT:

Forward Jon Smith had become a major contributor for SLU, even making five starts, in a four-week span at the start of conference play, but he's returned to the bench and very limited playing time. Against Xavier, he played just two minutes.

"In a game plan with not a lot of complexities," SLU coach Rick Majerus said, "he didn't remember what he was supposed to do. The coaches got frustrated with him, and I did, too. That's what you've got to do with young players, he's got to learn to sit until he understands the prioritization of what he's supposed to do."

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"We were like those dogs in 'Cool Hand Luke,' sitting there with our tongues hanging out. The guys showed the heart of a racehorse." -- Coach Rick Majerus after Saint Louis rallied from a 12-point deficit to beat Rhode Island 62-57 on Feb. 17.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP:

Saint Louis won its first four games, split its next 16, then won six in a row before the loss to Xavier. Entering the week, G Kwamain Mitchell was averaging 15.8 points a game, and F Willie Reed was averaging 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds.

PLAYER ROTATION:

Usual Starters -- F Willie Reed, F Cody Ellis, G Kyle Cassity, G Kwamain Mitchell, G Christian Salecich. Key Subs -- F Brian Conklin, G Justin Jordan, F Jon Smith, F Cory Remekun.

GAME REVIEW: Saint Louis 68, Dayton 65
Saint Louis 62, Rhode Island 57
Saint Louis 69, Massachusetts 56
Xavier 73, Saint Louis 71

GAME PREVIEW:

vs. Duquesne, Saturday, Feb. 27
vs. Temple, Wednesday, March 3
at Dayton, Saturday, March 6

IN FOCUS:

F Jon Smith's playing time has been sparing since he was removed from the starting lineup. In his first four games off the bench, Smith played a combined 26 minutes and scored just three points.

ROSTER REPORT:

- Kwamain Mitchell scored 12 points in the first half against Xavier, hitting four 3-point shots, and finished with 21 points. It's the third time in the past six games he's had 21 or more points.

- Willie Reed had his seventh double-double of the season Wednesday, and his 13 rebounds marked the eighth time this season he's had 11 or more. Reed also had four blocks, moving him within 12 of the school record for most by a sophomore.

- Cody Ellis had 19 points against the Musketeers, his most since a 20-point game against George Washington on Jan. 27. Ellis was 7-for-7 at the foul line and made two shots when Xavier was assessed a technical foul. Playing further from the basket, however, he had just two rebounds.

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