ST. LOUIS – Coming close was no consolation for VCU. Now, the Rams are really playing catch-up in the Atlantic 10.
Dwayne Evans had 21 points and 10 rebounds and No. 12 Saint Louis broke a late tie with seven straight points, winning 64-62 for its 17th straight victory on Saturday.
"Obviously, they're in the driver's seat," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "We've just got to focus on our next game."
The Billikens (23-2, 10-0 Atlantic 10) blew a 12-point second-lead before finally putting away VCU (20-6, 8-3) in a matchup of the Atlantic 10's top two teams. Jordair Jett and Rob Loe had 14 points apiece for Saint Louis, which beat VCU for a third straight time and took a three-game lead in the A-10.
"I don't know why they're not in the top 10 now," Smart said. "They have all the elements of a terrific team — they have great coaching, very good talent, terrific experience and also obviously today, a terrific homecourt atmosphere."
The schools play again March 1 in Richmond, Va.
"There's no moral victories," Smart said. "We were right there. If we can address this, this and this, maybe the next time the outcome will be in our favor."
Mike McCall Jr. and Jett drove for layups and Loe hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down for a seven-point lead with 36 seconds to go. VCU cut the deficit to three before Loe hit the second of two free throws for a four-point gap with 8 seconds left.
Treveon Graham had 16 points and eight rebounds for VCU, which had won seven of eight. Juvonte Reddic had 13 points and Briante Weber had 12 points and nine rebounds.
VCU was 2 for 16 from 3-point range, a glaring statistic in the loss. Graham was 0 for 5, one of the misses a bid for the lead with about a minute-and-a-half to go, and Jordan Burgess was 1 for 4.
The Rams entered the game shooting 37 percent from long range.
"If we shoot our normal percentage we're in pretty darned good position," Smart said. "Saint Louis is a terrific defensive team, they affect you in so many ways. But man, we'll take a lot of those open 3 looks that we got."
Evans had eight points and Jett scored five in an 18-4 run that gave Saint Louis its largest lead at 49-37 near the midway point of the second half. Evans ripped the rebound out of a VCU player's hands before converting his own miss and had a driving dunk during the stretch.
VCU scored the next seven points to get back into it and Graham's three-point play tied it 53-53 with 2:17 to go. Saint Louis helped VCU rally by making 2 of 8 free throws and twice missing the front end of the bonus after taking the 12-point lead.
The matchup attracted the largest crowd at 6-year-old Chaifetz Arena of 10,639, also Saint Louis' first sellout of the season
Saint Louis was bothered by VCU pressure early and had eight turnovers the first nine minutes, totaling 12 in the half. Saint Louis had five turnovers the second half.
Both teams' top threats had slow starts. Graham made 1 of 6 in the first half and got on the scoreboard with two free throws with 5:12 to go, and Jett was 0 for 3 with two turnovers before getting rolling with five points the final 2:33 of the half to help Saint Louis take a 30-27 lead.
Jett had the hot hand early in the second half, too, totaling his first 11 points in just over six minutes.