The Saint Louis Billikens defeated VCU 62-56 in front of a crowd that included Spike Lee to take the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in its initial appearance at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Saint Louis earned a spot in the final by defeating Charlotte 72-55 on Friday and Butler 67-56 on Saturday.
After the win, Billikens head coach Jim Crews talked about playing in New York. “It’s a great experience for kids to play in New York, and I can speak about that from experience when I was younger, and any time when I was coaching and we had chances to get to New York, it’s just a different place.”
It is more of a tremendous feat because of the emotional turmoil that the team underwent. A year ago, the head coach of Saint Louis was Rick Majerus. Unfortunately, he took a leave of absence over the summer, and never returned, as he passed away in December. Senior Kwamain Mitchell touched on his former coach. “I’m thankful for the Saint Louis community who supported us throughout this whole year, with coach passing away… Coach Majerus was a big part of this program.”
Coach Crews, who was an assistant under Majerus, talked about him as well. “Rick’s footprints, fingerprints, his lessons are embedded into those guys. His wisdom is embedded into those guys. Rick’s life and his friendship and his coaching and the relationships that he had and the people that he touched is a lot bigger than winning a game or winning a championship or having a good year. That’s how I see it.” Saint Louis moves on to the NCAA tournament as a #4 seed and will face New Mexico State Thursday afternoon.
On a brighter note, UMass junior Chaz Williams, who played high school basketball at Bishop Ford high school in Brooklyn, made his Barclays Center debut Thursday night. He was impressive in his three games, averaging 20.7 points, 5.7 assists and 2.3 steals. He spoke about playing in Brooklyn. “It was a great experience. It would have been even better if we could have walked out with a championship.” Hopefully Chaz will get a chance to play at another local arena. If UMass advances to the NIT Final Four for a second year in a row, Williams and company will play at Madison Square Garden.