Saint Louis-Saint Joseph's Preview


Saint Louis is one of only three schools in the country to regularly start five seniors, and that experience has helped it pull through in tight games to remain unbeaten in Atlantic 10 play.

It may have another tough test on its hands against surging Saint Joseph's.

The 13th-ranked Billikens seek a school-record 15th straight victory and an eighth consecutive win over the Hawks when the teams meet Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

Saint Louis (20-2, 7-0) is off to its best start in league play since 1958-59, but it has overcome some close calls to reach that mark. It beat Rhode Island by one on Jan. 7, St. Bonaventure by six on Jan. 15 and Duquesne by four on Jan. 22 before rallying to defeat George Mason 87-81 in overtime on Saturday.

The Billikens' seniors again led the way, as Rob Loe scored a career-high 23 points and Jordair Jett added 18. Loe hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 68 with 44 seconds remaining before opening the OT with another 3.

Mike McCall Jr. scored 15 points and Dwayne Evans added 12 and 10 boards.

"There were many times we could have been deflated," coach Jim Crews said. "But we did not get deflated. We kept trying to make them do the next right thing. Our guys did a good job of sticking with it."

Saint Louis also finished the 2012-13 regular season at No. 13 in the AP poll, its highest ranking since reaching No. 9 in 1964-65. Its success this season stems from a suffocating defense that leads the A-10 in scoring defense (59.0 points per game) and field-goal percentage defense (39.0).

Its only defeats have come against then-No. 10 Wisconsin on Nov. 26 and unbeaten Wichita State on Dec. 1. And though the Billikens have continued pulling out victories since the loss to the then-No. 12 Shockers, the close calls are piling up.

"Not until the final buzzer did I feel like we dodged anything," Crews said Saturday.

Saint Louis hasn't lost a game in this series since 2006, but the Hawks' confidence is soaring after Saturday's 73-68 home win over then-No. 21 Massachusetts.

Halil Kanacevic scored 18 points, while leading scorer Langston Galloway, averaging 16.7 points per game, was held to seven while shooting 2 of 7 from the field.

"We feel like we should have beat them," Kanacevic said. "I don't feel like it's an upset."

Neither does coach Phil Martelli. St. Joe's (15-6, 5-2) has won 11 of 13 since a disappointing 4-4 start and is unbeaten in its last seven at home. The Billikens, who are 7-0 in true road games, likely will provide the Hawks with another tough test in a three-game home stretch against the A-10's top teams.

St. Joe's faces second-place Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday following this contest.

"If we want to go far at the end of the season, we have to climb the ladder," said Ronald Roberts Jr., who is averaging 14.1 points. "(UMass) was a good test and these next two games are a great test. And playing at home is a great advantage."

Roberts scored a game-high 25 points in the last meeting with the Billikens on Feb. 27, but Evans finished with 21 and 12 rebounds to help Saint Louis earn a 70-53 victory.