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St. Louis routs VCU, takes control of Atlantic 10

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- After learning some life lessons in a tumultuous non-conference schedule marred by the death of its coach, Saint Louis is schooling the Atlantic 10 Conference on a nightly basis.

No. 24 VCU became the latest unwilling pupil Tuesday night in Chaifetz Arena, enduring a two-hour trip to the Billiken woodshed in a 76-62 drilling that the home team led by double digits for the last 28 minutes and 38 seconds.

It was Saint Louis' third win over a ranked team at home, all by at least 14 points, and this one moved it atop the Atlantic 10 Conference. At 9-2 in the league and 20-5 overall, it owns a half-game cushion over the Rams and 15th-ranked Butler, which hosts it Friday night.

"Saint Louis was great tonight," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "They have a lot of experience and good leadership. They were the aggressors the majority of the game and when that happens to us, it's a bad sign."

Jordair Jett came off the bench to lead the balanced Billikens (20-5, 9-2) with 16 points -- all in the second half. Mike McCall, Jr. added 15, Dwayne Evans netted 14 points and Cody Ellis kicked in 10.

SLU shredded VCU's vaunted "Havoc" defense, which usually wears down and wears out its opponents with depth, quickness and the ability to force turnovers. The Billikens made just eight turnovers and canned 55.3 percent of their shots.

How efficient was SLU? At one point in the second half, it had scored 64 points on just 42 possessions, a ratio of more than a point and a half per trip.

"We have a bunch of guys who can handle the ball," Evans said. "We didn't dribble the ball into their traps and we did a good job. We're putting the pieces together."

Juvonte Reddic paced the Rams (21-6, 9-3) with game-high totals of 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Treveon Graham contributed 11 and nine, respectively. But Graham, VCU's leading scorer with 15.8 points per game, was a miserable 4-of-15 from the field.

After a foul-filled first nine minutes in which each team was whistled for six fouls, Saint Louis created major separation with a run of 19 straight points, capped by McCall, Jr.'s runner in the lane which made it 30-8 at the 7:14 mark.

VCU simply couldn't make a shot, missing 15 in a row at one point and connecting on only 8-of-29 in the first half. Its defense couldn't speed the Billikens up, as they artfully walked the fine line of being aggressive while playing under control.

"The guys were alert and strong with the ball," SLU interim coach Jim Crews said. "VCU gets you playing outside your way and playing too fast, but our guys had one 94-foot offense and did a nice job running it. We had a buffet of ways to score."

While the Rams scored on six of their final seven possessions of the half, Saint Louis still cruised into intermission with a 38-21 lead. Evans led the Billikens with 10 points, hitting all three field goals and going 4-of-4 at the foul line.

Despite converting on its first five trips of the second half, VCU couldn't make any kind of serious run because SLU simply couldn't be stopped. Jett scored 12 straight points in a 2:52 stretch as the Billikens expanded their lead to 26 points with 5:58 remaining.

"We couldn't make stops," Rams guard Darius Theus said, "and you can't trade baskets against good teams."

It was the eighth straight victory for SLU, which was picked second in the A-10 preseason poll but then endured the death of coach Rick Majerus due to a heart condition on Dec. 1. Since then, it's gone 17-2, losing only to Temple and Rhode Island.

Majerus' influence lives on in the program, though. The defense is his system and the Billikens played it in a manner which would have pleased the intense coach.

"Coach Crews is doing an unbelievable job in what aren't the easiest circumstances," Smart said. "Saint Louis is playing better than anyone in the league."

NOTES: This was the first meeting between the teams since they met for the 2010 CBI championship, which VCU won in a two-game sweep. The CBI determines its champion in a best-of-3 series between the finalists ... The Rams entered this game forcing 20.6 turnovers per game, helping them lead Division I in turnover margin (plus 8.3). They've forced 20 or more turnovers 15 times this season, winning every time ... Saint Louis boasts two winning streaks of seven games or longer in a season for the first time in 26 years. It ran off nine straight victories in December and early January.
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