Like most people who follow The Mid-Majority, I love basketball. Less than some, more than others, but it is one of the few things in life that I have always instinctually loved. Like many others, I've relocated to a different city after graduating from college. Following my college basketball team of choice, the Saint Louis University Billikens, can be a trying exercise at times. The shoddy, inconsistent internet streams, the rare TV coverage, and the 300-mile trek between my apartment and Chaifetz Arena all get in the way from time to time. My story isn't unique, but this project is, and I'm excited to be a participant.
The afternoon before the game I jumped on Lake Shore Drive and made the solo trip through the heart of Illinois down to St. Louis with a change of clothes, a peanut butter twix and a desire to see a @RedLineUpsets. I had spent the few days before listening to Washington Husky fans talk about how much bigger, stronger, and faster their future NBA draft picks were compared to our middling 3-star recruits. For the most part they were respectful, but they certainly didn't seem concerned about losing. They were 3-0 coming in, and had scored over 90 points in two of the games. Predictably, they discounted the fact that our defense had yet to give up 80 points combined over our first two games.
The SLU fans are hungry for success entering this season. Our previous campaign saw Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed suspended and removed from school for questionable extracurricular activities. Willie now plays for Girona in Spain, but Kwamain sat out his year, came back and is the heart and soul of this year's team. Finally SLU isn't the youngest team in the nation, and seem poised to deliver many @RedLineUpsets.By 9 AM on game day the Billiken fans were already appearing on campus for the 11 AM tip off. There was a little hope that the early tip would disorient the Washington players, whose body clocks would be 2 more hours behind. Perhaps that played into how the game went for UW, but the Billikens were ready from the get go.
Rob Loe, a seven foot tall sophomore from New Zealand, started the game with a three for the Billikens, who were hot from the start. He's just one of the players that bring an international flavor to the squad. Rick Majerus has also recruited players from Greece, Australia and Canada to come play in St. Louis, Missouri. Astounding. After a basket on the other end, senior Brian Conklin started his big day with a bucket, and Kwamain Mitchell followed closely behind with a #superhoop. An and-one from Conklin and another three by Loe and former SLU coach Lorenzo Romar was calling his first timeout with 37:09 left in the game, his team down 14-6.
Besides having a former head coach on the sideline, there were a couple other hometown connections in purple. Former Washington, MO prep standout Scott Suggs is on the Huskies roster, but was unable to play his scheduled homecoming game due to injury. German freshman Martin Bruenig was heavily recruited by SLU but eventually ended up signing with the Huskies.
Conklin picked up another bucket and then drew a charge on the other end. That was just one of five that the Billikens would draw in the first half. Shawn Kemp, Jr., academically ineligible to play at Auburn (no, really) checked in a few minutes later, but it couldn't stop the bleeding. Billiken sophomores Mike McCall and Dwayne Evans, who each played over 23 minutes per game as true freshmen last year, had buckets that complimented back to back #superhoops by Mitchell and senior Kyle Cassity, and the score was 43-21 with 2:59 left in the game. By the halftime whistle the score was 50-25 and Chaifetz Arena was going wild.
The Bills didn't come out quite as strong in the second half, but they did stretch the lead to 29 points, and the game was never really in question. A big run by Washington had the game sitting at 64-46 with 9:11 left to play, and the student section was beginning to get restless. The Billikens have a long, sad history of lengthy scoring droughts that have a penchant to make leads disappear. Fortunately, this team seems to have enough offensive firepower and senior leadership to curtail those moments.
Oh yeah, and they have the Eugene Enforcer. Playing the finest game of his Billiken career, Brian Conklin stopped the UW run with his 19th and 20th points of the night. Then, after Dwayne Evans got mugged fouled grabbing a defensive rebound, Brian Conklin slammed the door shut on Abdul Gaddy, Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross and Aziz N'Diaye. See the following clip for the gory details, but suffice it to say that C.J. Wilcox doesn't want to play at the 'Fetz ever again after that halfcourt screen. Conklin, a great example of a hardworking Majerus player, relished in watching his foe crumple to the ground, then ran the court for the basket, the foul, and converted the free throw.
By the time it was all said and done, Conklin had 25, Mitchell had 18, and UW managed to eke out just 64 points to the Billikens 77. The final 13-point margin made it seem like a much closer game than it truly was, but the fans, players and coaches enjoyed every moment of it. Monday the Billikens started getting some of the national attention, receiving votes in both polls, but not cracking the Top 25. They haven't been ranked since before Larry Hughes wore Billiken Blue, so these kids have a chance to bring something special to the University.
In 2008, Boston College came to SLU when Mitchell, Cassity and Conklin were all freshmen. They all played major minutes, and SLU ran out of the gym with a hard fought 55-50 victory. Boston College essentially promised to never play in St. Louis again after the loss, but on Thanksgiving Day they will meet again in Anaheim at the 76 Classic. I'm sure those three are all looking forward to beating the Eagles again and notching another @RedLineUpsets.
at SAINT LOUIS 77, WASHINGTON 64 11/20/2011
WASHINGTON 3-1 (0-0) -- T. Ross 7-15 3-4 17; A. Gaddy 1-6 3-3 5; T. Wroten 5-11 2-3 14; A. N'Diaye 5-8 1-4 11; C. Wilcox 2-9 0-0 4; D. Gant 3-6 0-0 7; D. Simmons 1-3 0-0 3; M. Breunig 1-1 1-2 3; S. Kemp Jr. 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 10-16 64. SAINT LOUIS 3-0 (0-0) -- K. Mitchell 7-13 0-0 18; B. Conklin 9-15 7-8 25; K. Cassity 2-3 0-0 6; D. Evans 2-4 1-2 5; C. Ellis 1-4 4-4 6; R. Loe 3-5 0-0 8; J. Jett 1-3 0-1 2; M. McCall 2-5 0-1 5; C. Remekun 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-53 12-16 77.
Three-point goals: WASH 4-12 (D. Gant 1-2; C. Wilcox 0-2; T. Ross 0-4; D. Simmons 1-1; T. Wroten 2-3), SLU 9-21 (K. Mitchell 4-9; K. Cassity 2-3; C. Ellis 0-3; D. Evans 0-1; R. Loe 2-3; M. McCall 1-2); Rebounds: WASH 35 (T. Ross 10), SLU 25 (C. Ellis 5); Assists: WASH 10 (T. Ross 3), SLU 16 (K. Cassity 7); Total Fouls -- WASH 19, SLU 11; Fouled Out: WASH-T. Wroten; SLU-None.