Saint Louis has managed to play through the grief associated with the death of its popular former coach and find some success.
Ranked for the first time this season, the No. 18 Billikens look for a 10th consecutive victory while trying to continue their success against visiting Saint Joseph's in Wednesday night's Atlantic 10 matchup.
Since veteran coach Rick Majerus died of heart failure Dec. 1, Saint Louis (21-5, 10-2) has posted two nine-game winning streaks and won 18 of 20 following a 3-3 start under interim coach Jim Crews. Health issues caused Majerus to take a leave of absence before the season began, leaving former assistant Crews to run the team.
The Billikens returned to the AP poll for the first time since Nov. 28, 2011, after defeating two ranked opponents last week. They followed a 76-62 win over then-No. 24 VCU on Tuesday with a 65-61 victory at then-No. 15 Butler on Friday.
"This team we're playing Wednesday night is playing as well as any A-10 team has ever played," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. "Saint Louis is an absolutely certifiable monster, and I told the players that I hope they're excited about that."
In position to win 10 in a row for the first time since starting 14-0 in 1993-94, Saint Louis has a half-game conference lead over VCU and is one up in the loss column with four games remaining. The Billikens' best finish in their previous seven seasons in the A-10 was second place last year.
"That's a heck-of-a basketball team," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "They could go as far as they want to go."
The Billikens completed a regular-season sweep of Stevens' team by overcoming a five-point halftime deficit Friday. Mike McCall had 18 points, Dwayne Evans added 17 and Kwamain Mitchell scored 10 of his 12 in the second half as the Billikens won their fourth straight over a Top 25 opponent.
Saint Louis, allowing an average of 58.0 points to rank among the national leaders, showed some resiliency after winning the previous eight games by an average of 15.5.
"We focus on the first four minutes every game, and (Saturday) we faced a little adversity in the first half," Evans said. "That was our first deficit in a while ... the guys responded well and we ended up making a huge run."
Evans has keyed this nine-game win streak, averaging 15.4 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 61.0 percent. The 6-foot-5 junior leads the team with 12.0 points and 6.8 boards per game.
Winners of six straight versus Saint Joseph's (15-10, 6-6), the Billikens won the last two meetings by a combined 28 points while forcing 31 turnovers and holding the Hawks to an average of 55.5 points.
Cody Ellis had 20 points in last season's 72-60 win at Saint Joe's, though the senior is coming off his first scoreless game in a year as his season average fell to 11.0.
The Hawks have won two of three overall but are looking to avoid a fourth consecutive A-10 road defeat. They're 0-36 on the road against Top 25 opponents since a 37-36 win over No. 15 Georgetown on Jan. 2, 1979.
Saint Joe's guard Langston Galloway averaged 8.8 points in the previous eight games before scoring a season-high 26 on Saturday, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range, in a 71-59 win over George Washington.
Galloway had a team-high 15 versus Saint Louis last season.
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