by Tom Finkel
As I settled into my seat on press row at the Scottrade Center before SLU’s Saturday match-up against seventeenth-ranked Dayton, an unfamiliar face a few seats down was overheard saying, “Any team that can only score seven goddamn points in a half is one I have to come and watch.”
So it was with the press, who turned out in droves to see the conference home opener of the now-infamous team that scored the fewest total points in a game in modern college basketball history last Thursday
versus George Washington.
Normally there are one or two photographers sitting courtside. Here’s what it looked like Saturday:
The same could not be said, however, for the SLU faithless -- er, faithful. Attendance was officially tallied at just over 11,000. It was more like 1,000. No group of fans was more apathetic than the Billiken student section, which, save for three rows of Bud Light-swilling diehards in the front row, was nonexistent. Here’s proof:
Like my neighbor on press row, most of those on hand were rubberneckers hoping to witness a car wreck. When the Billikens came up empty on their first two possessions, the chatter and collective sucking of wind was audible. Decent applause followed the first basket. The best roar the near-empty arena could muster accompanied SLU’s 21st point of the night -- the one that meant they’d eclipsed their entire total from the previous game.
When it became apparent that the Bills was going to give the Flyers – a team that sure to be dancing in March -- a run for their money, fear and anticipation were replaced by excitement. The truth also emerged: This team isn’t as bad as the rest of America now thinks it is.
After the game, a spirited overtime loss, players and coaches alike reluctantly answered questions about the defeat a few days earlier and how that game compared to this one. The response that best summed up the atmosphere of the night came from SLU forward Luke Meyer, who led his team with nineteen points after scoring just four against George Washington: “I just turned off my cell phone the last two days. Everybody I knew was calling me.”
I wasn’t surprised SLU came out strong and challenged Dayton. After last week’s humiliation, the Billikens had to play their hearts out, and Dayton was in a lose-lose situation: If they win, it’s only to be expected; lose, and, well, they lose to the team that missed 26 shots in a row in its last game.
SLU needs Tommie Liddell (who finished with an impressive eighteen points) to drive the ball effectively if they’re going to win. T-III did just that for the first time all season, and three good things happened: He was rewarded with high-percentage shots, got to the foul line and was able to kick the ball out to open teammates (especially Kevin Lisch and Paul Eckerle) on the perimeter.
They do that and keep up their defense (which ranks first in the A-10 in opponent’s scoring) and they’ll continue to score more than seven points per half.