Saint Louis' second straight Atlantic 10 regular-season conference title might have seemed wrapped up for some time now. A share of it will be made official with one more win.
The 10th-ranked Billikens are looking to extend a school-record winning streak Thursday night against visiting Duquesne while also securing the top seed in next month's A-10 tournament.
Saint Louis (25-2, 12-0) cracked the top 10 this week for the first time since the 1964-65 season after winning its 19th straight game with Saturday's 66-59 home victory over 20-win George Washington.
"These kids, they're resilient," coach Jim Crews told the school's official website after his team overcame a 3-of-16 performance from 3-point range. "They can take a hit - and we took some hits, because they keep hitting and keep competing - and made some big plays."
Reigning A-10 player of the week Jordair Jett had a team-high 16 points and is averaging 20.0 in the last four games for the Billikens, who have a three-game lead in the loss column over second-place Saint Joseph's.
Saturday marked the fourth consecutive game that Saint Louis won by seven points or fewer.
"We kind of expect to come out with the W," said forward Rob Loe, who had 12 points and nine rebounds. "We never think we're going to lose. We were comfortable being where we were. How many games straight now that it's been close like that? We're comfortable in situations like that where we can execute down the stretch."
Nine of the Billikens' 12 conference games have been decided by single digits, including a 76-72 victory at Duquesne on Jan. 22. Saint Louis trailed at halftime but was saved by its 3-point shooting, going a season-best 10 for 19.
Jett had 10 points and a career-high 11 assists while backcourt mate Mike McCall Jr. led the team with 13 points as Saint Louis posted its fifth straight win in the series.
The Dukes (11-15, 3-10) got a game-high 18 from top scorer Ovie Soko (18.5 points per game) while Dominique McKoy and Micah Mason each added 15. Mason drained 5 of 7 from beyond the arc as Duquesne made 8 of 15 against a Saint Louis team which now tops the nation in 3-point defense at 26.6 percent.
Things didn't go quite as well offensively for the Dukes in Saturday's 57-54 home loss to Dayton. Soko scored a game-high 26 points, but they shot 33.9 percent and lost by four points or fewer for the second straight game.
Shooting 4 of 27 in the second half accounted for Duquesne blowing a 14-point halftime lead.
"A tale of two halves," coach Jim Ferry told the school's official website. "I really don't have an answer. We shoot 51 percent in the first half and get pretty much the same shots and we shoot 14 percent in the second half. You hold a fantastic offensive scoring team to 57 points and 39 percent and you lose - that's heartbreaking."
Also unsettling heading into a matchup with Saint Louis is Duquesne's 2-32 record against ranked opponents since Feb. 20, 1997, including 0-18 on the road.
If Saint Louis furthers that futility, its run at an unbeaten A-10 mark still faces significant obstacles with road games against VCU and Massachusetts, two of the top teams in the conference, sandwiched around a home game with Dayton.
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