Published January 13, 2015
La Salle was a worthy competitor for one half. The rest of the game the Explorers would just as soon forget.
Dwayne Evans had 16 points and 17 rebounds and No. 16 Saint Louis hit 17 of its 20 shots in a pull-away second half, clinching a share of the Atlantic 10 title with a 78-54 victory Saturday.
"The second half was unbelievable," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "I've been in a few games like that in my lifetime, but not many."
La Salle entered its regular-season finale second in the conference and had won seven of eight, putting the school in good shape for a first NCAA tournament appearance since 1992 barring another stumble in the conference tournament.
"It's all game by game," Giannini said. "I think we have a good chance, but we want to try to respond to this in the right way."
Kwamain Mitchell had 19 points and six assists on Senior Day for Saint Louis (24-6, 13-3 A-10), which won its first conference title since 1970-71 in the Missouri Valley. Rob Loe matched his career best with 20 points, hitting all seven shots and the Billikens shot 58 percent overall, one game after shooting a season-worst 30 percent in an overtime loss at Xavier.
Saint Louis has won 12 of 13 and can take the title outright if VCU loses at Temple on Sunday.
Tyrone Garland had 15 points off the bench for La Salle (21-8, 11-5), which had been 2-0 in the Chaifetz Arena. Ramon Galloway, who leads the Explorers with a 17.8-point average, was just 3 for 12 and had eight points.
"We were battling in the first half. In the second half, we let them get loose," Galloway said.. We were battling the whole game until they got their run going.
"It just would have meant a lot for us to win, but we've got the Atlantic 10 coming up and we have to put this behind us and make a run."
La Salle is second on the A-10 in free-throw shooting at 75 percent but missed seven of its first 10 attempts and finished 6 for 15.
"We missed big free throws that could have kept the game more competitive," Giannini said. "We just were not good today in pretty much anything in the second half."
Saint Louis was 1 for 9 on 3-pointers in the first half, but made its first two after the break with Loe and Mike McCall Jr. connecting during a 10-2 run for an 11-point cushion with just under 12 minutes left. La Salle got no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
Coming off a 29-point effort in La Salle's home finale, Galloway was a focus of the Saint Louis defense and at times forced things, making only one of nine shots in the first half. Galloway was 19 for 30 overall the previous two games including 7 for 14 from 3-point range.
La Salle scored seven straight points to go up 27-23 with just under four minutes left in the half. After a timeout, Saint Louis pounded it inside the rest of the half with Evans, who had missed four of his first five shots, scoring the last six for a 31-29 lead that left him just two points of a double-double.
Cody Ellis missed his first three shots, extending a two-game drought to 0 for 18, before hitting a layup late in the half.
Mills had 10 points at the half, just his third time in double figures the last seven games.