ST. LOUIS — By its recent standards, this was a veritable blowout for No. 10 Saint Louis.
After winning its previous three games by a combined eight points, the Billikens made the second-largest crowd in Chaifetz Arena history nervous on Saturday night by blowing a 14-point lead in the second half and missing double-figure free throws for the third consecutive game.
But like the last 19 games, it ended up as a win. Saint Louis held George Washington to nine points in the last nine minutes to notch a 66-59 victory that pushed it within a game of the top seed for next month’s Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.
“You’re not always going to do everything right,” Billikens coach Jim Crews said. “You’re going to have setbacks. But you always try to do the next right thing.”
Saint Louis (25-2, 12-0) has not lost since a 70-65 setback to No. 3 Wichita State, the only unbeaten team in Division I. Its average margin of victory during its streak is nearly 11 points, but there have been several close calls.
This one fell in that category as the Colonials (20-7, 8-5) turned a 41-27 deficit early in the second half into a 50-50 tie when guard Maurice Creek drained a short jumper in the lane with 9:19 remaining.
“We let our foot off the gas pedal a bit,” Billikens center Rob Loe said. “But after they tied it, you couldn’t look back. We just had to move on.”
Loe’s short jump hook with 8:33 left started a 12-2 spurt in which George Washington missed nine straight shots from the field. The Colonials entered the night shooting 47 from the floor but converted just 20-of-61 for 32.8 percent.
“We had a bunch of good looks that we didn’t make,” George Washington coach Mike Lonergan said. “You’ve got to make shots to beat a top 10 team like Saint Louis and we just didn’t do it.”
Guard Joe McDonald gave the Colonials a final chance, capping a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer with 1:25 left that closed the gap to 62-59. McDonald and forward Patricio Garino each tried tying 3s in the final minute but misfired.
The Billikens put it away when guards Austin McBroom and Mike McCall Jr. each sank two foul shots in the last 20.7 seconds as the crowd of 10,623 finally exhaled. Before those makes, Saint Louis bricked six of seven during a 4 1/2-minute stretch.
It finished 15-of-25 for the game, giving it 35 missed free throws in the last three games.
“We just have to get into the gym and keep working on them,” Saint Louis forward Grandy Glaze said of the foul-shooting slump.
Guard Jordair Jett led the Billikens’ balanced attack with 16 points, and Loe finished with 12 plus nine rebounds. Glaze provided an unexpected spark off the bench with 10 points and seven boards, a 180-degree turn from fouling out in six minutes during Wednesday night’s 89-85 overtime win at George Mason.
McDonald scored a game-high 21 points for George Washington, and center Kevin Larsen contributed a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double. Garino had 11 points.
Creek, who entered as the team’s leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, made just 2-of-12 shots from the field and managed only five points before fouling out with 1:36 remaining. His off-game and the Colonials’ lack of depth — they were outscored 22-2 off the bench — proved to be insurmountable obstacles.
“We just couldn’t steal enough minutes for our starters,” Lonergan said. “I was proud of our guys for not folding in a tough environment, but Saint Louis’ experience was a key down the stretch.”
NOTES: The sellout crowd on Saturday night was the second straight for Saint Louis and only the seventh since Chaifetz Arena opened in 2008. Five of those capacity crowds have occurred in the last two seasons. … George Washington entered the game as the only A-10 team with five players averaging double-figure scoring and is also the only team to be ranked in the top five of the conference in scoring offense (fourth), scoring defense (fourth), field goal percentage (third) and field goal percentage defense (third). … Forward Dwayne Evans, the Billikens’ top scorer at 14.7 ppg, was
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