Patriots face tall task in clash with 10th-ranked Billikens

Feb 19, 2014 - 3:49 PM Fairfax, VA ( - The 10th-ranked team in the country heads to the state of Virginia tonight, as the Saint Louis Billikens prepare to tangle with the George Mason Patriots in Atlantic 10 Conference action at the Patriot Center.

The Billikens, all alone atop the A-10 standings entering the week, are off to a 10-0 conference start for the first time since the 1946-47 campaign. The squad is one of only a handful nationally with two defeats or less, and those two setbacks came against Wichita State (70-65) on Dec. 1, and Wisconsin a week earlier during the Cancun Challenge.

Since that setback to the Shockers, a team which is still undefeated, the Billikens have ripped off a school-record 17 straight victories. Over the weekend, SLU slipped by VCU at home, 64-62, and with the win jumped into the AP Top-10 for the first time since the 1964-65 campaign.

While Saint Louis is cruising along with its best record after 25 games, the Patriots are wallowing at the bottom of the league standings with a mere two wins in 11 opportunities. However, George Mason did manage to knock off Duquesne and UMass in consecutive road tests before bowing to St. Bonaventure last Saturday at home.

With George Mason being new to the conference, it should come as little surprise that this is just the second meeting all-time between the programs. Saint Louis won the first encounter at the start of the month, 87-81, but had to go to overtime to make it happen. In true road games this season, the Billikens sport an unblemished 9-0 mark.

In a game that featured nine ties and 12 lead changes, the Billikens were lucky to be on the right side of the score when the final buzzer sounded at Chaifetz Arena on Saturday afternoon. Dwayne Evans carried much of the load as he registered a double-double consisting of 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Rob Loe and Jordair Jett stepped in with 14 points apiece. Fellow starter Mike McCall Jr. pitched in with 12 points, but the foursome also combined to turn the ball over 14 times.

Over the course of 10 conference bouts, the Billikens are tightening up on defense by limiting foes to only 60.9 ppg on 38.6 percent shooting from the field. Even better is the team's efforts out on the perimeter as opponents connect on a mere 29.6 percent of 152 attempts. At the offensive end, Jett is flying high with 17.4 ppg and has also been more than willing to help out teammates with 4.7 apg, not to mention clearing 5.1 rpg. Evans chips in 14.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg for a squad putting up 69.6 ppg.

As was the case with the last outing for the Billikens, George Mason also dealt with a series of ties and lead changes, but in the case of the Patriots, they were on the wrong side of the ledger when St. Bonnies claimed the double- digit win on the road. Bryon Allen did post a game-high 26 points, shooting 4- of-6 beyond the arc and 10-of-13 from the floor, followed by Sherrod Wright with 20 points, but the other three starters combined to miss all 10 field goal attempts and finished with just seven collective points.

From a defensive standpoint, the Patriots are being far too lenient as they surrender 79.0 ppg to league opponents. A major discrepancy has GMU being outscored by an average of more than five points per game at the free-throw line, although for the most part Allen (17.6 ppg) and Wright (16.0 ppg) are carrying their load at the charity stripe coming into the week. Jalen Jenkins (10.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg) also has the potential for strong efforts, even though that wasn't the case on Saturday.

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