Defense carries Saint Louis past No. 24 VCU to 1st place in A-10

ST. LOUIS -- Dwayne Evans and his Saint Louis teammates pride themselves on their defense. It was never better than against No. 24 VCU.

Saint Louis held the Rams without a field goal for more than 10 minutes in the first half. That stretch keyed a 21-1 run and led to a 76-62 win for the Billikens on Tuesday night.

"Our staple for our entire team is our defense, and that's what we pride ourselves on," said Evans, who was one of four players in double figures with 14 points. "I think that's a big reason why we got the win."

The victory was the eighth straight for Saint Louis and gave the Billikens sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10.

Saint Louis (20-5, 9-2) holds a half-game advantage over No. 15 Butler (21-6, 9-3), which beat cellar dweller Duquesne 68-49 Tuesday. The Billikens will visit Butler on Friday. SLU defeated the Bulldogs at home 75-58 on Jan. 31.

"That's what I love about college basketball," Evans said. "You play a big game and you got two days to get ready for another huge game. "

Jordair Jett led the Billikens with 16 points, all in the second half. Led by Jett and Cody Ellis, who contributed 10 points, SLU's bench outscored VCU's 34-14. Evans also was in double figures for SLU with 14 points.

Jett, for one, likes the position the Billikens are in with five games left in the regular season.

"It means a lot," Jett said. "They're a real good team. We just came out and did what we had to do to win the game."

VCU (21-6, 9-3) was led by Juvonte Reddic with 19 points and 12 rebounds. The double-double was his 10th this season.

Despite the defeat, the Rams are far from finished either. A loss Saturday at Xavier, though, would certainly hurt VCU's chances of taking the league title.

"We have another tough road game," said VCU coach Shaka Smart. "We have to bounce back and play better than we did tonight."

The loss snapped VCU's five-game winning streak and was the worst of the season for the Rams, whose previous biggest loss was nine points to Duke back in November.

Smart credited SLU for the result.

"I thought Saint Louis played great tonight from the opening tip until the final buzzer," Smart said. "They have a group with a lot of experience and a lot of positive leadership."

The Rams entered the game averaging 78.1 points, tops in the Atlantic 10. But the Rams were no match for the Billikens' league-leading defense (57.8 ppg) in the opening half.

Saint Louis held the Rams without a field goal for more than 10 minutes and allowed just eight baskets during the first half. That helped the Billikens build a 38-21 halftime lead.

"The key was our defense," said Saint Louis coach Jim Crews. "Our defense was very, very good the first half. VCU is outstanding with their press, and if you get stops, they can't set up the press."

The Billikens led 11-8 when VCU's Rob Brandenberg sank a bucket with 14:34 left in the first half. VCU did not score from the field again until Treveon Graham hit a jumper with 4:08 remaining. Saint Louis outscored 21-1 during that stretch.

VCU found its stroke to start the second half, as the Rams made their first five shots out of the break to cut the lead to 45-34. But Jett answered with a layup and a conventional three-point play with 15:24 remaining to increase the lead to 50-34.

Saint Louis would stretch the lead back out to 26 when Ellis hit a layup with 6:02 remaining that made it 68-42.