RICHMOND, VA – St. Louis University has an annual ritual of finding a way to join the Atlantic 10’s elite teams.
In each of the last two seasons, the Billikens received help to slip to fourth place – their best finish under coach Travis Ford – for a double bye in the conference tournament.
A microcosm of that annual dance played out against Richmond on Friday night as SLU opened up an 11-point lead, pushed it back in the second half and lost 68-66 for the fourth time in six games at Robins Center.
SLU’s four most recent losses have come against sides vying for a position near the top of the A-10, leaving them behind or drawing level with them all.
SLU (19-10 overall, 10-6 in the A-10) was exceptionally efficient in the first half but had two field goals in the first 13 minutes of the second half when the Spiders (19-10, 10-6) put on a 23-4 run to move with the Billikens in fifth place.
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At this point, SLU appears destined to play a Thursday game at the conference tournament, meaning the Billikens would need four wins in four days to clinch the title.
Francis Okoro had 23 points and 15 rebounds for SLU and Tyler Burton had 23 points for Richmond.
Fred Thatch Jr. missed a short jumper from a slight angle in the closing seconds in a string of missed chances for the Billikens.
SLU had possession with two minutes remaining and had a three-shot opportunity to level the game but missed all of them. The Billikens followed with another opportunity, but Yuri Collins missed a runner in the lane. On another chance, Gibson Jimerson missed a 3-pointer.
Richmond held its Senior Night Ceremony before the game to honor nine players, including six graduate students, who stayed on for the postseason glory many predicted for the Spiders a few years ago.
The pace was high from the start as both teams shot a high percentage in the first 10 minutes. Both sides seemed determined to do most of the offensive work inside as Okoro and Marten Linssen caused damage, as did Richmond’s Grant Golden and Nathan Cayo.
SLU had the first breakout to achieve some separation after teams battled to a tie at 22. The Billikens went on a 13-2 run that was topped by Terrence Hargrove Jr. and DeAndre Jones with 3 points. They went into the break with a 43:33 lead.
SLU’s rebound advantage in the half was great offensively, as the Billikens scored seven points on offensive rebounds.
It was the kind of half that made SLU’s offense their best, as everyone who played scored a goal. They did this from the inside, the perimeter and mid-range and on cuts and drives and off Richmond turnovers.