ST. LOUIS -- Kwamain Mitchell was a freshman when Saint Louis scored 20 points in a 2009 loss at George Washington. He redshirted the 2010-11 season after being charged with sexual assault and missed the first 11 games this year with a broken foot.
What's more, the man who recruited him to a rebuilding program, Rick Majerus, died on Dec. 1 from a heart condition. So on and off the court, Mitchell has experienced every facet of adversity during his five years.
On Saturday, Mitchell and his fellow Billikens reaped the rewards for their blood, sweat and tears.
Connecting on 17 of 20 field goal attempts after halftime, No. 15 Saint Louis clinched at least a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference title and the top seed for next week's conference tournament with a 78-54 decision over La Salle.
Mitchell was a major part of the win, scoring 19 points and doling out six assists in one of his best performances of the year. The 5-foot-10 senior from Majerus' hometown of Milwaukee has averaged 18 points on 49 percent shooting in the last three games.
"Feels really good," he said of wrapping up the conference title. "We've gone through challenges and adversity. Nothing's been given to us. We've had bumps in the road, but every year we've gotten better."
The Billikens (24-6, 13-3) may have been at their best in the second half, when they blew the Explorers off the Chaifetz Arena floor by canning 17 of 20 field goal attempts in a precise, dominating display of team basketball.
Rob Loe hit every shot he tried -- 7 of 7 from the field, including three 3-pointers, and all three of his free throws -- to score a game-high 20 points for SLU. Dwayne Evans added 16 points and tied his career high with 17 rebounds as the Billikens outboarded La Salle 38-27.
Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland came off the bench to lead the Explorers (21-8, 11-5) with 15 points, while Tyreek Duren contributed 13 and Sam Mills tallied 12. Ramon Galloway, the team's top scorer at 17.8 ppg, made just 3 of 12 shots and managed just eight points before fouling out with 3:50 remaining.
"That was as bad a beating as you could take in the second half," La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini said. "In every aspect of the game, they are an outstanding team, but we should take some of the blame. They got a lot of layups off simple ball screens."
La Salle could have tied for the A-10 title and earned the top seed with a win. It appeared to be in position to do so when it rattled off seven straight points for a 27-23 lead with 3:27 left in the first half. But the Billikens closed the half with an 8-2 spurt, capped by Evans' layup with 42.9 seconds remaining, to grab a 31-29 edge at intermission.
Saint Louis set the second half's tone by going inside to the 6-foot-11 Loe against the 6-2 Mills on the first possession, resulting in a layup. It then rattled off 10 scores in 11 possessions, gradually pulling away from the Explorers.
Defensively, the Billikens held La Salle 19 points under its average, allowing it to make just 40.4 percent from the field and only 2-of-15 from the 3-point line.
The lead grew to 24 points in the last minute as the near-capacity crowd of 10,272 chanted "A-10 champs" and "Rick Majerus." Following the game, the team cut down a net and held ceremonies for the four seniors.
"I'm so proud of these guys for what they've accomplished," Saint Louis interim coach Jim Crews said. "It's hard to win a game, let alone a championship."
Mitchell knows what Majerus would be saying if he were still alive.
"Great job," Mitchell said. "But don't live in the present. There's still work to be done."
NOTES: Before the game, the Saint Louis pep band honored Cody Ellis, one of the team's four seniors, by playing the Australian national anthem. ... This is the first time the Billikens have been ranked in consecutive weeks since the 1993-94 season. ... La Salle has won 20 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1988-89 and 1989-90, when Lionel Simmons was its star player. ... The visiting team has won five of the last six meetings.