PHILADELPHIA — Phil Martelli sees a lot of those old, tough Temple teams in this year’s Saint Louis defense.
“I think, and people accuse me of blowing smoke, they’re a top 10 team because have something to hang their hat on,” said Martelli, the longtime Saint Joseph’s coach. “And in this city we should appreciate that because that’s how John Chaney’s teams won all the time, because of the Temple zone. Now you have the Saint Louis man-to-man.”
No matter the era, the Hawks had a hard time trying to solve the D.
Rob Loe scored 17 points and Jordair Jett had 10 points and seven assists to help No. 13 Saint Louis top Saint Joseph’s 65-49 on Wednesday night for a team-record 15th straight victory.
The Billikens (21-2, 8-0 Atlantic 10) topped 14-game winning streaks set in the 1958-59 and 1993-94 seasons.
“We don’t think about it, we don’t talk about it, it’s not said,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said of the winning streak.
The Billikens, who needed overtime to beat George Mason on Saturday, extended their best start in team history and are 8-0 on the road.
Saint Louis last lost Dec. 1 to Wichita State, 70-65.
“I think it’s great, but I think it’s expected of us,” Loe said.
Ronald Roberts Jr. had 19 points for the Hawks (15-7, 5-3), who missed 14 of 15 3-point attempts.
The tentative Hawks got a taste of what it’s like playing against the Billikens: They missed 16 of 22 shots from the field (1 for 6 on 3s) in the first half for a miserable 27 percent. That’s not good enough to beat even the weakest nonconference team, much less against a program that’s won NCAA tournament games in consecutive seasons.
“They were just standing on top of guys,” Roberts said. “It was hard to hand the ball off because I would try to go to their side and the guy would be just over him and stuff. So I really had to try to make a play from the top of the key. But we knew they were one of the top defenses in the country.”
Saint Louis is winning at home, on the road, close ones and blowouts. All of the Ws have added up to a season to remember.
But the Billikens are only focused on what’s ahead
“We don’t even look at the winning streak,” guard Austin McBroom said. “Coach always talks about moving on to the next game.”
The Hawks blew a chance midway through the second half to make a big dent in their 15-point deficit when DeAndre Bembry missed three of four free throws during a pivotal stretch. Roberts also missed two from the line, keeping Saint Louis’ lead at nine points. The Billikens showed Saint Joseph’s how to get it done from the line, making four straight to open a 45-32 lead, and they hit just enough big shots down the stretch to hold off the Hawks.
The Hawks missed 18 of 30 free throws.
“You have to use those opportunities to stem the tide,” Martelli said. “We’re going to stay with it and guys will go to work and we’ll improve. We’ll win a game with our foul shooting down the stretch.”
Martelli basically used a six-man rotation (three players played 39 minutes) and his tired team didn’t have enough lift in those late-game jumpers to mount a serious rally. Mike McCall Jr. and Loe broke the game open with 3s in the final minutes for an 18-point lead, propelling the Billikens into the top spot.
“I imagine playing 40 minutes a game like that is pretty grueling,” Loe said. “Our team’s got such a big bench that we really don’t have to do that too often, so that helped us a lot, I think.”
The Hawks had 17 turnovers and only five assists.
Saint Joseph’s, which hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2008, had won 11 of 13 since Dec. 7 to at least start thinking about some kind of postseason play. The Hawks were coming off a 73-68 win over No. 21 UMass and hoped to beat Top 25 teams in consecutive games for the first time since March 1966. That drought will go on.
Saint Louis has worked its way up the rankings in large part to a defense that allows only 59 points per game, tops in the A-10 and eighth nationally. The Billikens led the A-10 in field goal percentage defense (39 percent) and were second in 3-point field goal defense (29 percent).
They contest and harass ballhandlers on every possession, leading to eight different players totaling 12 steals.
McBroom hit a 3 and drove the lane for an uncontested layup during a 13-1 run late in the first half that sent Saint Louis into the break with a 35-22 lead.
The Billikens are staying this week in Philadelphia — they play Saturday at La Salle.