INDIANAPOLIS — Saint Louis coach Jim Crews and Butler's Brad Stevens nearly echoed each other when assessing the key to Friday night's game.
I think the start to the second half was key, Crews said after Saint Louis took control of the Atlantic 10 race with a 65-61 comeback win over the No. 15 Bulldogs.
Mike McCall had 18 points and Kwamain Mitchell scored 10 of his 12 in the second half to help Saint Louis rally. Dwayne Evans added 17 points for the Billikens, who won for the fourth time this season against a Top 25 opponent — a school record — and earned their ninth victory in a row in Atlantic 10 play. The previous eight had all been by 10 points or more.
Saint Louis (21-5, 10-2) remains firmly in control in the conference, holding a one-game lead over No. 24 Virginia Commonwealth. The Billikens beat VCU 76-62 on Tuesday.
We focus on the first four minutes every game, and today we faced a little adversity in the first half, Evans said. That was our first deficit in a while ... the guys responded well and we ended up making a huge run.
The win also gave Saint Louis a season sweep of Butler, which had 23 turnovers in a 75-58 loss to the Billikens on Jan. 31.
To lose to a team twice, it hurts more than most, Jones said.
Butler (22-6, 9-4) scored the game's first four points but needed Rotnei Clarke's 3-pointer 5:17 into the game to regain the lead at 10-9. Kellen Dunham then went on a personal 7-0 run for the Bulldogs, who led for the remainder of the first half and were ahead 34-29 at the break.
The Billikens took control to open the second half, scoring seven of the first nine points after halftime to take a 37-36 lead they would never relinquish. Mitchell's layup put Saint Louis back in front with 17:20 to play.