He didn't arrive in St. Louis until Jan. 2, and since he got there, coach Rick Majerus has had to match what Ellis can learn about the team's offense with what he can learn about the team's defense.
Early on in the season, Ellis' offense was the attention-getter, as his 3-point shooting changed the complexion of Saint Louis' offense and started the Billikens on their late-season run up the Atlantic 10 standings. As the season has moved toward its conclusion, teams have done a better job of stopping Ellis' shot, but his defense has begun to rise up.
SLU closes its regular season on Saturday at Dayton with a chance to finish in fourth place in the league, a position that seemed unfathomable at the start of the season. While the whole team has matured over the course of the season, the biggest change has been the arrival of Ellis, who now is starting to contribute more on defense.
"He's got to place a greater priority on defense," Majerus said. "He's got to learn the hard way he's got to defend. You can't score enough points to make up for bad defense. He's got to pride himself on that, and he's moving in that direction. Against Xavier, his defensive pressure was good, he just got bull-rushed on the boards. It's hard for him to put it all together, but I will say this, he's working toward it."
Though Ellis had just seven points Wednesday on 2-of-10 shooting against No. 20 Temple, he drew praise from Majerus for playing probably his best defensive game yet. The bigger payoff for Ellis and for SLU will come next season and beyond, when they have a full season to work with him.
TEMPLE 57, SAINT LOUIS 51:
The Billikens went more than seven minutes without a basket down the stretch Wednesday, and their defense couldn't keep them in the game. SLU suffered its second close loss in eight days to one of the Atlantic 10 Conference's top teams.
The Billikens (19-10, 10-5) made just five of 24 3-point shots as they were flustered by Temple's switching defense and couldn't get open looks, especially in the second half, when they made just one of 12 3-point attempts. SLU had a chance to pull within a point of No. 20 Temple (25-5, 13-2) with less than a minute to play, but Kyle Cassity missed a 3-pointer, and Willie Reed missed two free throws. Kwamain Mitchell missed a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left that could have made it a one-point game.
- Charlotte's Bobby Lutz has coached against Saint Louis for so long that he remembers all the names that the Billikens' former home used to be called. He also realizes Chaifetz Arena, which opened on campus at the start of last season, gives Saint Louis a big home-court advantage.
"Scottrade or Savvis or Kiel or whatever they called it, it was a cavernous place," Lutz told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Now they have a great facility with a great atmosphere. The students are engaged. It's the perfect size. It's a great home court."
The Billikens have gone 29-6 at Chaifetz, including 15-3 this season.
"It's a great college basketball facility," Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. "They did everything right. I'm not sure Saint Louis ever had a home court where it felt at home playing in that other building. There's another thing: Sometimes people talk about how hard it is to play in a certain place but it's also because the team is good. Saint Louis is really good."
- Saint Louis has won 10 conference games this season, equaling their most number of victories since joining the Atlantic 10 in 2005-06. The Billikens went 10-6 in their first season after moving from Conference USA.
ON THE SPOT:
Saint Louis' assist-to-turnover ratio remains higher than it should be for a team among the league leaders. The biggest culprit is point guard Kwamain Mitchell, who works hard to make things happen but sometimes works too hard. He hasn't had more than four assists in a game since Jan. 20, but he's had two five-turnover games in that span. Kyle Cassity, who gets most of the rest of the minutes at the point, has been much better on assists-to-turnovers, having back-to-back six-assist, one-turnover games against Xavier and Duquesne.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"We practice them. It's not something we don't focus on. Part of it is nerves." - G Kyle Cassity on Saint Louis shooting just 61.4 percent from the free throw line this season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Saint Louis won its first four games, lost its next three then won seven of nine before losing three of four. The Billikens has since won seven of their last nine. Entering the week, G Kwamain Mitchell was averaging 16.3 points and 3.0 assists, F Willie Reed was averaging 11.9 points and 8.2 rebounds, and F Cody Ellis had an 11.2 scoring average.
Usual Starters -- F Willie Reed, F Cody Ellis, G Kyle Cassity, G Kwamain Mitchell, G Christian Salecich. Key Subs -- G Justin Jordan, F Brian Conklin, F Cory Remekun.
Saint Louis 69, Massachusetts 56
Xavier 73, Saint Louis 71
Saint Louis 69, Duquesne 59
Temple 57, Saint Louis 51
at Dayton, Saturday, March 6
Willie Reed is an undoubtedly an inside presence, but teams are learning to foul him late in close games. He is making just 48.2 percent of his free throws this season (68 of 141) after going 0-for-2 against Temple.
- Kyle Cassity made just one of nine shots against Temple and missed all six of his 3-pointers. That's normally a bad night, but SLU coach Rick Majerus has given Cassity permission to take bad shots in an effort to get him to take more shots.
- Freshman F Cory Remekun had one of his best games to date against Temple. He played 11 minutes, his most in a month, and logged quality time in relief of Willie Reed at points in the game when it mattered. Remekun had one blocked shot, leaving him five behind fellow freshman Jon Smith as the two battle it out on the school's freshman blocked shot list.
- F Brian Conklin has had a second cortisone shot in his injured ankle to get him through the rest of the season. He played only nine minutes against Temple because of foul trouble but continues to grab offensive rebounds at the highest rate on the team.