By Jesse Kramer
Saint Louis has been gaining votes in the AP Top 25, coming in at No. 38 this week, and that trend will likely continue as the Billikens keep winning. On Wednesday night, they took their winning streak to Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym and warded off the Rams’ upset attempt by outscoring them 34-22 over the final 10 minutes of the game.
Saint Louis, who was paced by Dwayne Evans’ 24 points and 10 rebounds and Cody Ellis’ 22 points, led by as many as nine in the first half, but the Rams managed to stay within seven at halftime.
Ellis provided a huge boost for the Billikens, scoring 17 points on five three-pointers and a pair of field-goals.
“He’s the perfect “stretch four” man,” said Fordham coach Tom Pecora. “Chasing guys around the perimeter is not (our big guys) cup of tea.”
Fordham would hold Ellis to only five points in the second half, but Evans and point guard Jordair Jett came alive to give the Billikens the offense they needed. Evans finished with 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, giving him his first double-double of the year, and Jett posted 14 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Saint Louis quickly built an 11-point lead in the second period after seven straight points from Evans.
Fordham countered with a few buckets from Mandell Thomas, Luka Zivkovic and Branden Frazier, but Evans continued his second half domination, scoring 9 of Saint Louis’ next 13 points to extend the Billikens’ lead to 12 points. The Rams would never get closer than nine points the rest of the way.
The one bright spot for Fordham in this game was freshman guard Mandell Thomas, who finished with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Despite being a rookie, Thomas has a lot of confidence in his abilities, and he seemed in no way afraid to attack the nation’s 23rd-best defense. It is easy to see him as a big-time player in Fordham’s future.
Pecora put the ball in his hands down the stretch when the Rams were trying to make a final run, and the frosh converted, although it did not result in a comeback for his team.
“(The Billikens) play great on-ball defense, and he (Thomas) was the only guy who could break them down and make plays,” Pecora said.
However, Frazier, who has been a big-time player for Fordham at various points in his career, struggled, and the upperclassman was not a huge part of the offense during the final minutes. The Saint Louis guards stuck to him like glue, holding him to 11 points on 2-of-10 shooting. However, he did have five rebounds and assists, and his last bucket of the night put him at 1,000 points for his career.
“Part of the maturation process is being a marked man,” Pecora said. “He’s got to learn to respond. He’s got to make the step from being good to being great.”
As for Saint Louis, this is a team that is obviously a strong contender for the Atlantic 10 title and could do some damage in the NCAA tournament.
The Billikens have a pair of big men who can stretch the floor in Ellis and Rob Loe, and Evans and Grandy Glaze can do plenty of damage on the interior.
The combination of Jett, Kwamain Mitchell and Mike McCall Jr. in the backcourt, who can all play the point when needed, gives Saint Louis possibly the best starting five in the Atlantic 10.