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St. Louis rolls past New Mexico State

The SportsXchange

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Dwayne Evans poured in 24 points, including 16 in a first half in which he equaled New Mexico State's total, as Saint Louis used a suffocating defense and an opportunistic offense while cruising to a 64-44 victory Thursday in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional at HP Pavilion.

The Billikens, with their 16th victory in the last 17 games, advanced to a game Saturday against the winner of the Oklahoma State-Oregon game that followed.

Evans, Most Outstanding Player of last week's Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament in Brooklyn, got into the interior of the New Mexico State zone defense for three open jumpers inside the free-throw line, accounting for six of his 16 first-half points.

That helped the Billikens (28-6) run off to a 29-16 halftime advantage.

"We wanted to play two-against-one against (Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State's 7-foot-5 center)," said Jim Crews, who took over as Saint Louis' interim head coach last August when the late Rick Majerus stepped down for health reasons. Majerus died Dec. 1.

"If you can get him (Bhullar) to move just a little bit, it opens things up. I thought we were very good against him."

Cody Ellis balanced Evans' interior attack with a pair of 3-pointers, two of three the Billikens made in the half, as Saint Louis, ranked 13th in this week's USA Today Coaches Poll, overcame 13 offensive rebounds by the Aggies and a 25-17 deficit on the boards overall through 20 minutes.

New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies offered one possible explanation for a first half in which his team shot poorly in every aspect of the game -- 0-for-1 on free throws, 0-for-3 on 3-pointers and 8-for-31 overall.

"We'd rebound and go up and we couldn't make shots that we always make," Menzies said of the Aggies' lowest first-half output of the season.

"Bunnies right at the rim. It just wasn't meant to be. It was like Rick (Majerus) was up on top of the backboard slapping the ball out. It was amazing."

New Mexico State (24-11) upped the tempo after halftime and made a game of it for eight minutes.

Bandja Sy, who missed five of his seven shots in the first half, hit three straight, including a 3-pointer, to open the second half, and when he hit two free throws at the 12:57 mark, the Aggies suddenly were back to within 39-33.

But Saint Louis center Cory Remekun dropped in a free throw and then slammed in a dunk, and Jordair Jett converted a steal into a fast-break layup, allowing the Billikens to re-establish a double-digit lead en route to their school-record 28th victory of the season.

"They're a much better team in person than they were on film," Menzies concluded.

One that hopes to advance past the third round one year after seeing its season end at that point against Michigan State.

"Coming into this game, Coach (Crews) talked a lot about just not being happy to be here," said Evans, whose 24 points were the most ever scored by a Billiken in an NCAA Tournament game.

"After getting here last year, we had different aspirations this year."

Evans' 24-point total came on 11-of-16 shooting. Ellis, who had three 3-pointers, added 12 points, and Remekun had 11.

Sy led New Mexico State, which suffered its seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament loss dating to 1993, with 17 points despite missing 14 of his 20 shots.

The Aggies were held to 27.9-percent shooting overall and missed 14 of their 16 3-point shots against a Saint Louis defense that held an opponent under 60 points for the 22nd time this season.

Despite being seriously outsized upfront, the Billikens were able to hold Bhullar, Most Valuable Player of the WAC Tournament, to four points. Bhullar did manage a game-high 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in 27 minutes.

NOTES: Dwayne Evans became the 28th player in Saint Louis history to pass 1,000 points in his career. The junior's total stands at 1,008. ... New Mexico State captain Tyrone Watson, who missed the team's previous four games because of an ankle injury, came off the bench for seven first-half minutes. He didn't score. ... The game was a rematch of each school's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance on the 61st anniversary of that game. Saint Louis beat New Mexico State, 62-53, in Kansas City on March 21, 1952. ... The teams hadn't met since the 1974-75 season, with the Billikens now leading the all-time season series 5-2. ... New Mexico State was playing its second game in San Jose in five weeks, having beaten WAC opponent San Jose State, 67-57, across town on the Spartans' campus on Valentine's Day. ... Saint Louis made only one previous trip to the West Coast this season and lost that game, 66-61, at Washington.
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