Four weeks after cracking the top 10 for the first time in nearly five decades, Saint Louis no longer looks like a threat to make a deep March run.
The top-seeded Billikens lost for the fourth time in five games on Friday, surrendering a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to St. Bonaventure's Jordan Gathers and crashing out of the Atlantic 10 tournament with a 74-71 quarterfinal loss.
St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt asked guard Charlon Kloof to attack the rim on the final possession, but he ran into a wall of Billikens defenders as he drove right. Instead Kloof shrewdly kicked back to Gathers spotted up behind a screen at the top of the key and the junior guard buried the game winner as time expired to spark a wild celebration from the victorious Bonnies.
The upset victory sets up a Atlantic 10 semifinal against either Dayton or St. Joseph's for St. Bonaventure and propels the Bonnies within two victories of an unlikely NCAA bid. It's a run reminiscent of the one St. Bonaventure made two years ago to claim the Atlantic 10's automatic bid, only this one is more unlikely considering the Bonnies (18-14) ended the regular season with four straight losses, all by eight or more points.
That late tailspin made it seem unlikely St. Bonaventure could pose much of a threat to Saint Louis on Friday, but perhaps the outcome shouldn't have been surprising considering how the Billikens (26-6, 13-3) have played of late against a back-loaded schedule
A brutal 71-64 loss to St. Bonaventure on Feb. 27 began the slide. Then came a home loss to bubble team Dayton and a road loss at second-place VCU. Saint Louis seemed to right itself with a two-point win over UMass in the regular season finale, but Friday's stunner will reignite questions about whether the Billikens are ripe to be picked off in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Saint Louis' problems have differed from game to game, but the Billikens blew a 10-point halftime lead Friday because their vaunted defense let them down and they couldn't stop turning the ball over.
St. Bonaventure shot a ridiculous 59 percent in the second half as Kloof and Matthew Wright carved up the defense. Saint Louis compounded the trouble by committing nine of its 13 turnovers in the second half. Jordair Jett was especially ineffective, sinking only 4 of 11 shots, committing six turnovers himself and generally playing out of control.
Those are issues Saint Louis will have to fix by this time next week.
Otherwise a top 10 team as recently as a few weeks ago could find itself out of the NCAA tournament early.
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