SLU vs. La Salle: A Not-So-Special Senior Moment
The Saint Louis University basketball team tried hard on Saturday against La Salle, they really did. They clawed for every rebound, dove for every loose ball and hustled themselves to exhaustion on defense, erasing any lingering doubts about whether they have bought into Rick Majerus' grind-it-out, wear-em-down style of hoops.
Unfortunately for them, effort only counts when the final score is in their favor. And for all their heart and desire, a simple lack of ability left them short in the end. They lost 68-62 in their final home game of the season.
Seniors Tommie Liddell and Kevin Lisch concluded their stellar careers by combining to shoot just 5-22 from the field. Liddell, who will wind up ranked in the top ten in school history in points, rebounds and assists, didn't score until there was 5:45 remaining in the second half. Lisch, who gritted out the game on an injured leg, missed a three that would have tied the score with 17 seconds remaining.
And after all that, the night ended with one of the most awkward senior night ceremonies I have ever seen.
With Lisch, Liddell and Barry Eberhardt clearly bummed and beaten down after the loss, they forced smiles at center court and thanked the fans -- half of which had already headed for the exits -- for their support. They traded sweat-drenched hugs with their family members and stood solemnly as a video montage of their career highlights set to the Foo Fighters' "My Hero" played on the jumbotron.
This is why every other school on the planet honors the seniors before the game. It just feels wrong when they lose. And this was a loss to remember.
Freshman point guard Kwamain Mitchell singlehandedly kept his team competitive, finishing with a game-high 26 points. Like Allen Iverson, he is lightning quick off the dribble and has an uncanny ability to drive the lane and create shots against defenders almost a foot taller that he is. He's also a natural distributor with the ball, and a trio of alley-oop dunks to his favorite long-limbed target Willie Reed gave the Billiken faithful a preview of what's to come in the next three seasons.
But the future ain't all roses. While the Mitchell-Reed tandem is a solid foundation, the supporting cast isn't exactly Oceans 11. Kyle Cassity couldn't guard a shopping mall and Brett Thompson moves like he has slabs of concrete on his feet instead of sneakers. Brian Conklin is the most promising of the bunch and even he wouldn't crack the starting lineup of an NCAA tournament team.
With the three seniors graduating, SLU loses 33 points per game. They averaged 62 points per game this season. No matter who Majerus brings in with his next recruiting class, that's a deficit that will be hard to overcome. And the coach, who loves to complain and lay blame for losses on his team's inexperience, will be in for a shock next season when his sole veteran player is Paul Eckerle, a former walk-on who will be a junior.
After the game in the press room, Majerus looked like he was at the end of his rope. He had tired eyes, and paused constantly to rub his face with his palm and massage his temples. He lashed out at the referee who T'd him up at a key point late in the second half, saying "These guys think they're God...they don't have any respect for Saint Louis and they don't have any respect for...whatever."
He rolled out a litany of excuses for his team's poor play: games during exam week, too many injuries, a tough travel schedule. Of his squad traveling to Philadelphia next week for a rematch against LaSalle in the first round of the A-10 tournament, Majerus said bitterly, "We're lucky if we can get an aisle seat for the bastards."
Majerus couldn't even muster a few words of praise for Mitchell, turning a question about his point guard's sensational play into a rant about his team's overall lack of athleticism.
The coach did have a few words of wisdom, which he would be wise to heed himself. Asked about the painful loss on senior night--the Bills' third in a row after beating a top-25 Dayton team--Majerus said: "No one is going to feel sorry the Billikens so you shouldn't feel sorry for yourself."