NEW YORK — Regular season, conference tournament, regular season. Saint Louis won three straight championships in the Atlantic 10 before the run slammed to a halt on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
St. Bonaventure stunned the 18th-ranked Billikens 71-68 in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament Friday on Jordan Gathers’ 3-point shot.
“They won three in a row,” coach Jim Crews said. “That does not happen very often.”
Top-seeded Saint Louis’ defense of its A-10 tourney title ended after one game, and the Billikens (26-6) have lost four of five overall.
Big man Dwayne Evans, who had hit three 3-pointers all season, made a 3 over 7-foot Youssou Ndoye with 20.9 seconds left to tie the score at 68-68.
“He was sagging off, so I shot it,” Evans said.
Mike McCall scored 21 points, but Saint Louis was frustrated in the second half by the ninth-seeded Bonnies’ 1-3-1 zone. Trapping on the perimeter and denying the ball to Evans, the Billikens’ leading scorer, St. Bonaventure (18-14) rallied after trailing by as many as 13 in the first half.
“I didn’t think we were aggressive with it,” McCall said of the zone. “We were just holding the ball, not attacking.”
Saint Louis trailed 61-56 with just over 5 minutes remaining, but its seniors willed the Billikens back into it. Jordair Jett, the A-10 player of the year, swooped in for an offensive rebound at 6-foot-1 and drew the fourth foul on Ndoye. Jett missed the second free throw, but Rob Loe tipped the ball out, and Jett scored on a drive to pull the Billikens within 61-59.
Charlon Kloof missed inside and the Bonnies couldn’t convert on several chances for a tip. McCall raced down the floor and drew a foul, and his two free throws tied the game with 4:33 left.
Saint Louis took its first lead in nearly 8 minutes when Loe found Evans for a layup to put the Billikens up 65-63 with 1:41 remaining.
After Kloof scored inside to retie the game, Jett drove the lane and had the ball knocked away. He went down hard and stayed on the court as the Billikens bench howled for a foul call.
The Bonnies had a 5-on-4, and Matthew Wright hit a 3-pointer for a 68-65 lead with 38.2 seconds left.
Wright finished with 22 points, as did Kloof, who made 6 of 8 field goals and all nine free throws while pulling down a career-high nine rebounds and dishing out six assists.
On the final play, St. Bonaventure put the ball in his hands, and he started to drive to draw in the Saint Louis defense. Kloof whipped the ball to an open Gathers at the top of the key. Gathers, the nephew of late Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers, said he had never before made a game-winning shot.
“When I let it go, I knew it was going in,” he said.
The Billikens led 38-28 at halftime, but the bigger Bonnies had been racking up foul trouble on them. Saint Louis then gave up 43 points in the second half and couldn’t execute its offense against the zone.
“We just didn’t get guys in the right spots,” Crews said.
He insisted he didn’t feel any differently about the Billikens’ shortcomings during their recent slide than he would during a long winning streak – there are always little things to try to improve.
Saint Louis will have plenty of rest before the NCAA tournament, unlike last year, when the Billikens were upset by Oregon in the round of 32.
Crews wasn’t ready to concede that the break could prove beneficial.
“I hope so since we got beat,” he quipped. “That was not the plan.”
Check out the game-winning shot in the video below.