March 21, 2013

No. 13 SAINT LOUIS 64, NEW MEXICO STATE 44

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - Saint Louis is carrying on the memory of Rick Majerus the best way it knows how: by advancing in the NCAA tournament.

Dwayne Evans had 24 points and six rebounds, Cody Ellis scored 12 points and the fourth-seeded Billikens overwhelmed New Mexico State 64-44 in the second round Thursday behind a dominating defense.

"It was like Rick was up on top of the backboard slapping the ball out," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said.

Playing with a heavy heart since Majerus died in December, Saint Louis reached another mark in March for its late coach. The Billikens (28-6) eclipsed the 1988-89 team's school record of 27 victories and are back where they were a year ago in the round of 32.

They will play the winner of Oklahoma State and Oregon on Saturday.

"What's really pleased me is it's not what you do, it's what you are," Saint Louis interim coach Jim Crews said. "And these guys, what they are has really grown and matured and been good leaders. And at their stage of life that's what you really want guys to be. And that's what's been rewarding from my standpoint."

Saint Louis had no problem maneuvering around 7-foot-5 freshman Sim Bhullar and New Mexico State.

Evans shot 11 of 16 from the floor and finished a point shy of his career best to propel Saint Louis around, over and even through the 355-pound Bhullar, who struggled to keep pace. The Billikens held Bhullar to four points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.

Bandja Sy had 17 points and nine rebounds for the 13th-seeded Aggies (24-11), who shot a miserable 28 percent. Saint Louis shot 46 percent and forced 16 turnovers.

"The game got kind of scrappy and we kind of got out of sync for a little bit," said Aggies guard Daniel Mullings, who had six points on 2-for-9 shooting.

The big man only bothered the Billikens briefly.

The lumbering center stayed around the rim while his other four teammates chased five players around the perimeter. The unconventional defensed allowed Bhullar to save energy and protect the paint.

Once Saint Louis solved the big man, it had no trouble on either end.

The Billikens pushed the pace and often left Bhullar in the backcourt, especially when New Mexico State committed seven turnovers in the first nine minutes. Evans pulled up for several uncontested jumpers just inside the free throw line, scoring 16 points during a 29-14 run to open the game.

"He had his work cut out," Evans said, "because we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things."

Bhullar didn't make his first shot until 3:49 left in the first half when he converted a short hook, and he didn't register his first block until swatting Evans' shot 2:37 into the second half.

After New Mexico State showed a brief burst of offense to slice Saint Louis' lead to nine, the Billikens again leaned on Evans to pull away. He converted a pair of difficult reverse layups, outsmarting Bhullar around the rim to lift Saint Louis ahead 37-23.

The Aggies made their best run with Bhullar on the bench. Sy slammed an alley-hoop from K.C. Ross-Miller to highlight an 8-0 run that brought New Mexico State within six.

The highlights for the Aggies ended there.

Evans and Ellis - who wore a blue Mohawk-style strip across his hair - each made a 3-pointer during a 12-2 spurt for Saint Louis that put the game away. The Billikens led 49-34 with 9:30 remaining, and in typical Majerus fashion, never relented.

Players wore a patch on their jerseys - a ribbon with the word "Coach" - as they have since Majerus died of heart failure in December. He left the team before the season because of health concerns, and Crews has taken over and led the Billikens to the A-10 regular season and conference crowns.

The Billikens beat Memphis last year before losing in the round of 32 to Michigan State. They made their first opponent looked like a walkover, although that's hardly been the case the past two months.

The Aggies had won 18 of 20 games, including the Western Athletic Conference tournament title for the second straight season. New Mexico State also was a No. 13 seed last year, losing 79-66 in the first round to Indiana.

And while the Aggies haven't won a tournament game since beating Nebraska in the opening round in 1993, they at least seemed satisfied to lose to such an opponent playing for such a worthy cause.

"I'm happy for those guys in the other locker room," Menzies said. "They're keeping their dream alive."


BUTLER 68, BUCKNELL 56

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - The cast of characters has changed.

Butler's character has not.

Rotnei Clarke scored 11 of his 17 points in the last 8:44, Andrew Smith had a double-double with a career-high 16 rebounds and 14 points and Butler withstood a late rally from upset-minded Bucknell for a 68-56 victory in the NCAA tournament on Thursday. Roosevelt Jones added 14 points for the sixth-seeded Bulldogs, who watched an 11-point lead turn into a 6-point deficit before regaining control of the game for good.

Butler has now won 11 of its last 13 games in the NCAA tournament, the only two losses coming in the 2010 and 2011 title games.

"The similarity is they're Butler," coach Brad Stevens said. "They have some mettle. They have some intestinal fortitude built up over time. The difference is just the people. We have to play a little bit differently on both sides of floor because of it.

"But it truly is a Butler team, which I feel good about."

Joe Willman had a career-high 20 points for Bucknell. But the 11th-seeded Bison couldn't overcome an off day from two-time Patriot League Player of the year Mike Muscala, who had nine points, only the second time this season he's failed to reach double figures. Going almost five minutes without scoring late in the second half didn't help, either.

Neither did Butler's considerable edge at the foul line. The Bulldogs made 25 of 28 free throws - 18 of 20 in the final 4:43 alone - while Bucknell went to the line just eight times.

"I just think they've played in so many big games, they're not the type of team that's going to get rattled," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said.

Butler (27-8), headed to the Big East next season after one in the Atlantic 10, will now face the winner of Davidson-Marquette on Saturday in the East Region.

The Bulldogs' runs to the 2010 and 2011 title games gave hope to little guys everywhere - they nearly knocked off Duke in 2010, with Gordon Hayward's half-court heave clanking off the rim - and Bucknell hoped to pull off an upset of its own Thursday. The Bison had it in their DNA, having knocked off third-seeded Kansas in 2005, one of the tournament's classic upsets.

And for a while, it looked as if Bucknell might just beat Butler at its own game.

Butler survived the first-half defensive slog in better shape, largely because it took Muscala out of his rhythm. After his smooth jumper from the top of the key in the opening seconds, he went scoreless the rest of the half, with Smith and Jones swarming him any time he got within a thought of the paint.

"You always try to look for tendencies on certain players and, with him, you couldn't find one," Smith said. "The mindset was just team defense. Understanding that one person can't stop him. He's too good for that."

Willman single-handedly kept Bucknell in the game, hitting one jumper after another from deep in the corner. But when Khyle Marshall made a jumper to give Butler a 29-18 lead with 16:35 left, it looked as if the Bulldogs were on the verge of pulling away.

"We knew they were going to make a run," Smith said.

Sure enough, Muscala converted a three-point play to spark a 19-2 stretch.

Just as he'd carried Bucknell the first half, Willman was key during the spurt, scoring eight points. When he made a jumper to put Bucknell up 32-31, its first lead since the opening seconds of the game, he jumped up and down and then quickly composed himself.

"When we were making that run, we were really confident," Willman said.

But as anyone who's watched Butler the last few years knows, this one was far from over.

The stars from Butler's title runs are gone - Smith and Marshall are the only starters who are carryovers - but the way the Bulldogs play remains the same. Turn up the heat defensively, take advantage of opportunities on offense and never, ever quit.

"I don't really see a whole lot of differences," Smith said.

Smith made a 3, then Marshall stripped the ball from Muscala at the other end and fed Clarke, who hit another 3 to put Butler back in front 39-37. After a three-point play by Ryan Frazier, Smith scored on a hook shot. Pesky Alex Barlow got another steal - he had four for the game - and scored on the driving layup to give Butler a 43-40 lead with 7:28 to play.

Willman's jumper cut Butler's lead to 43-42 with 6:56 left, but the Bison went the next 4:42 without scoring. Butler, meanwhile, was putting on a free throw clinic, making 18 of 20 to seal the victory.

"I told them in the locker room, there are a lot of teams in this tournament that wouldn't be able to withstand a 16-point swing and then have a 16-point swing on their own," Stevens said. "I'm really proud of them."