MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Essentially homeless for the season, Duquesne players wandered into the UPMC Events Center for the first time Thursday night just as St. Louis University did.
Both teams then shot in the first half as if they were adjusting to something they’d never seen on the campus of Robert Morris University.
But the Dukes certainly got comfortable in the second half as they shot 65% and pulled away from the Billikens for a 73-59 win in the Atlantic 10 opener for both teams. SLU’s second-half defense was only the beginning of the issues coach Travis Ford had with what he called his team’s worst performance of the season.
“I told them with the game on the line in the second half, for them to shoot 65% is not how you respond in a close game,” Ford said. “It’s uncalled for. It’s unnecessary. It’s disappointing. That’s not how we play.”
The offense was just as bad this time as SLU (11-3 overall, 0-1 in the A-10) shot poorly from every spot on the floor.
Hasahn French didn’t get his first field goal until Duquesne had opened an 11-point lead with 11:20 remaining. The Billikens made seven of 18 free throws. They had nine shots blocked, including seven by Michael Hughes. And they struggled mightily to convert in transition.
“They came out ready to play and played tough,” French said. “I feel we beat ourselves. There was a lot we could have controlled that we didn’t take control of. There were places we could have taken control and decided not to do that.”
• BOX SCORE: Duquesne 73, SLU 59
The displaced Dukes, whose arena is being renovated, were playing a home game at a third arena in two months, having previously had games at PPG Paints Arena and at La Roche University.
SLU suffered its sixth consecutive regular-season loss at Duquesne, which had lost its previous two games. Forward Marcus Weathers led the Dukes (11-2, 1-0) with 26 points and nine rebounds.
The anticipated return of Fred Thatch Jr. did not materialize as he remained out of uniform while dealing with a muscular disease. The remaining players who have performed so well together went flat.
“We didn’t get much from anybody,” Ford said. “Jordan (Goodwin) played pretty hard. Other than that … Duquesne was very good, and we didn’t play very well. I thought it was the worst we’ve played all year, even Seton Hall. We went on too many blank runs offensively. We put too much pressure on ourselves.”
Duquesne did defensively what many SLU opponent have employed by playing tight in the lane to neutralize French and reduce penetration. The Billikens responded by shooting poorly from the perimeter, making French’s job even tougher.
Tay Weaver made three 3-pointers but the team was six for 20. Since making a program-record 17 3s against Tulane, the Billikens have hit 23 of 88 (26%).
The Dukes started the second half with a 16-6 run to open a 44-31 lead. The Billikens were able to get as close as 52-48 on two putbacks by Terrence Hargrove Jr., but never threatened after that.
“We can’t let this get to us,” Hargrove said. “They deserved that game. We couldn’t sustain a run. We have to go home and get better.”
SLU appeared to have a chance to deliver a quick blow as Duquesne started the game ice cold, and the Billikens were dominating on the glass. But after holding the Dukes scoreless the first four minutes, the first half was tight.
SLU improved its shooting to 44% in the second half to finish at 36%, but the Billikens made only three of 12 free throws in the final 20 minutes.
The offense was running so poorly that Ford turned to walk-on Joshua Hightower for more than six minutes, looking for something that might work.
“He’s been terrific in practice and all the coaches have been pushing me to play him, not necessarily because of anyone else but he deserves it,” Ford said. “When things aren’t going well, you try things. I was trying to get better shots because we couldn’t get good shots.”
The Billikens have two home games before going on the road again. They return to action Sunday against Massachusetts.
“We can’t go into a slump,” French said. “I know from losing four (consecutive) games last year where it can go very fast. We all have to be better and we will be.”
SLU DECADE IN REVIEW
BOOSTING THE BILLIKENS
BY STU DURANDO • Post-Dispatch College Sports Writer
The men's basketball program at St. Louis University celebrated the best of times and endured the worst of times, all within the same decade, creating a roller-coaster ride for fans in a stretch of time that appears to be ending with another ascent.
The last 10 years included three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, a collapse into the cellar of the Atlantic 10, a Title IX investigation amid claims of wrongdoing by players and a return to the NCAA field.
Rick Majerus succeeded in returning SLU to the national spotlight before his death. Travis Ford has made inroads in an attempt to return the Billikens to those heights as the decade comes to an end.
Meanwhile, the women’s basketball program made significant strides, reaching a level never attained previously. The women’s soccer team surged to the top of the Atlantic 10, becoming a regular postseason threat. And the men’s soccer team made a coaching move in hope of regaining some of its previous glory after an unprecedented NCAA Tournament drought.
Here are SLU's top 10 sports stories of the past decade:
10. SOCCER UPS AND DOWNS
The women’s team has become the best in the A-10 and reached the NCAA Tournament the last two years. Meanwhile, the men are rebuilding and hoping to end a streak of five years without making the NCAA field in 2020.
Since turning the corner in 2016, coach Katie Shields has led the women to a record of 64-15-7 overall and 33-3-4 in the conference. The talent level has surged. The next step is to advance in the postseason after being eliminated in the first round in 2018 and ’19.
The men hired Kevin Kalish two years ago, and the Billikens have gone 16-11-7 and 9-3-4 while improving their prospects of reaching the postseason
9. MASCOT ESCAPADES
When SLU unveiled its new-look Billiken in 2016, no one could have imagined the uproar it would cause. The mascot head was unsettling to many, and the pushback was so significant that the university quickly agreed to try again.
SLU president Fred Pestello even joined the madness and poked a little fun at the situation by going to the zoo to make a video while he interviewed animals about attributes the mascot should have.
The original new Billiken earned the university national attention, even if it was deemed a misstep. The new and current version was unveiled to fans at halftime of a basketball game as they held their collective breath. But the re-design went over well and will represent SLU entering a new decade.
8. BASEBALL KEEPS WINNING
Coach Darin Hendrickson became the baseball program’s all-time winningest coach, and the Billikens won the A-10 tournament three times to reach the NCAA Tournament field. He took over the program in 2008 after SLU had only three winning seasons in the previous 37.
SLU posted eight winning seasons during the decade and had a record of 336-239. Hendrickson moved to the top of the win list with 390 in the second-longest tenure for any baseball coach at the school. He will enter his 13th season in 2020.
The Billikens had 12 players named to the A-10 first team, had nine players drafted and saw pitcher James Norwood reach the major leagues with the Cubs in 2018.
7. STEPPING STONES
In 37 seasons before Lisa Stone became coach of the SLU women’s basketball team, the program made one postseason appearance in the WNIT. The culture of losing was ingrained with only two winning records in 26 seasons.
The Billilkens endured three more losing years before they emerged as a force in the Atlantic 10 and made three consecutive trips to the WNIT from 2016-18. To do so, Stone recruited players who would become some of the more impactful in program history while posting a seven-year record of 122-102.
Point guard Jackie Kemph left as SLU’s all-time leader in points and assists and was a two-time A-10 player of the year. Center Sadie Stipanovich became the second-leading career scorer. Stone followed with strong recruiting and is positioned well for coming seasons.
6. CREWS ROLLER COASTER
Jim Crews became interim coach when Majerus left the program and led the Billikens to a season that earned him the NABC national coach of the year award. After the interim tag was removed, SLU had another stellar campaign. But the success didn’t last.
After losing the core of players recruited by Majerus, SLU’s talent level fell off, and the Billikens suffered through consecutive seasons with 11-21 records. The Billikens finished last in the A-10 in 2015 after owning first place the previous season.
In Crews’ last two years, SLU was 16-20 at home, suffering losses to Morehead State, Tennessee Martin and South Dakota State. The Billikens were relegated to a play-in game at the conference tournament both seasons, and Crews was fired immediately after a loss to George Washington in 2016.
5. FORD TAKES OVER
The decision by Oklahoma State to fire Travis Ford in 2016 became SLU’s good fortune. Athletics director Chris May targeted Ford and kept negotiations quiet amid rumors of other candidates circulated. SLU would not acknowledge Ford’s hiring until 24 hours after it was first reported.
He arrived with experience that other possible candidates didn’t possess, having spent eight seasons at Oklahoma State and three successful years at Massachusetts in the Atlantic 10.
“I woke up as excited as I’ve ever been,” Ford said the day of his introductory press conference at SLU. “Sometimes you wonder, ‘Is this right?’ But I was locked in. That’s a great feeling.”
4. TITLE IX TROUBLE
Allegations of a sexual assault during the preseason led to the suspension of three basketball players who never played during the 2017-18 season before all withdrew from the university. SLU kept information in the ensuing Title IX process well protected, never issuing a ruling on anyone allegedly involved.
The incident forced Travis Ford to balance a thin roster as he lost one more player to suspension late in the season, but the Billikens managed to surprise the Atlantic 10 by finishing in a tie for fifth place. St. Louis police did not file charges, and the circuit attorney eventually opted to drop the case after an extensive review.
SLU faced a similar situation in 2010 when two players were suspended amid sexual assault allegations.
3. BEDLAM IN BROOKLYN
After being picked to win the A-10 in the 2018-19 season, the Billikens finished in sixth place, leaving them with the chore of winning four games in four days in March to reach the NCAA Tournament. SLU did just that, beating four teams that had defeated the Billikens in their previous meeting. Guard Tramaine Isabell Jr. was named the tourney’s most outstanding player.
The opening win against Richmond was in doubt until the final minute, but SLU disposed of No. 3 seed Dayton and No. 2 Davidson with much more ease to reach the championship game.
After falling behind St. Bonaventure by 15 points in the first half, SLU charged from behind to take an eight-point lead. St. Bonaventure missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. Defense was the key as SLU held the final three opponents to an average of 50.7 points.
2. DEATH OF A LEGEND
Rick Majerus completed his rebuilding of the SLU basketball program by guiding the Billikens to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 before he announced a leave of absence because of heart issues in August of that year. By November the problem was significant enough that the school said he would not return.
He died Dec. 1, 2012, without being able to witness the extent to which he had developed the Billikens into a significant national presence. He was 64. A memorial service was held on campus before SLU players served as pallbearers at his funeral in Milwaukee.
Majerus was hired in 2007 just as Chaifetz Arena was near completion. The combination was expected to put SLU on the basketball map and did just that. Majerus had a career record of 517-216, and he was 95-69 in five seasons at SLU.
1. RECORD RUN
The Billikens made the Rick Majerus era a massive success by qualifying for the NCAA Tournament three consecutive years from 2012 to 2014, the longest run of tourney appearances in program history. The outcome was the same each time as SLU won its opener before being eliminated the following game.
During those three seasons, SLU compiled a record of 81-22 overall and 38-10 in the Atlantic 10. The Billikens won the conference tournament once to earn the automatic berth and were an at-large selection the other two years. They were given a No. 9 seed in 2012, No. 4 in 2013 and No. 5 in 2014.
SLU beat Memphis, New Mexico State and North Carolina State in successive years, with the most dramatic victory coming when the Billikens overcame a 16-point deficit in the final eight minutes to beat NC State in overtime..