State faces seasoned lineup in St. Louis
Posted March 19
Orlando, Fla. — First things first. Saint Louis University’s nickname is Billikens.
A Billiken basically is an ornate charm doll. If you have one, it’s supposed to bring you good luck. So there.
The Billiken basketball team that N.C. State will face Thursday in the NCAA 2nd round may or may not be charmed, but the players collectively may be the oldest of any team in the 64-team field.
Jim Crews, the former Evansville coach and Indiana player, starts five seniors. That’s a difference from the Wolfpack, one of the field’s least experienced teams but coming off of an impressive first-round win Tuesday over Xavier in Dayton, Ohio.
After completing the 74-59 victory, State coach Mark Gottfried and his players, seeded 12th in the Midwest, immediately hopped a jet for Orlando to begin preparation for the Thursday 7:20 p.m. game (WRAL-FM Mix 101.5, TNT television). They arrived shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday.
Reserve guard Cat Barber, who sat out the second half Tuesday as a result of stomach problems, made the trip with the team. By Wednesday afternoon, there was no update on his condition.
But with or without the freshman defensive wiz, State again will be a slight NCAA underdog against a 26-6 Atlantic 10 Conference 5th-seeded team that dropped close early-season games against No. 1 Midwest seed Wichita State and No. 2 East seed Wisconsin.
After a 70-65 loss to Wichita on Dec. 1, the Billikens went on a tear, winning 19 straight before a loss, 71-64, to Duquesne on March 27. Crews’ team now has dropped four of its past five, dropping from 10th in the Associated Press poll to a closing spot at 25th.
28 wins last season
As interim head coach last season for Rick Majerus, who died Dec. 1, 2012, Crews led the team to a 28-7 finish and set the personnel foundation for this season’s run.
Five seniors, led by 6-foot-6 Dwayne Evans (14.1 ppg), started in an A-10 tourney loss to St. Bonaventure last Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Evans usually is joined by classmates Jordair Jett (6-foot-1, 13.7 ppg, 4.7 assists per game), Mike McCall (6-foot, 9.9 ppg), Rob Loe (6-foot-11, 9.9 ppg, 5.4 rebounds per game) and Jake Barnett (6-foot-5, 4.8 ppg).
When the ’12-’13 season ended with an NCAA loss to Oregon in the third round, the school moved quickly to sign Crews to a long-term contract.
Under Majerus, the ’11-’12 Billikens (26-8) also reached the NCAA third round before losing to No. 1 West seed Michigan State by four points.
In terms of sheer NCAA minutes, few teams have had so many players with so much game exposure.
"We've had a lot of experience in the NCAA, so that's awesome," Crews said after Sunday’s selection show. "I think they know that everyone's season comes to a crashing halt except one. That's how it ends. That's why it makes it exciting and fragile and you've got to really get after it and be fortunate with it, but I think our guys are well aware of that."
State’s lone senior, center Jordan Vandenberg, is surrounded by sophomores and freshmen. But in the win over Xavier, the Pack hardly looked young and timid. Sophomore playmaker Tyler Lewis, going 32 minutes with Barber ailing, had one of his best games yet – seven points, eight assists, three rebounds and only one turnover. ACC player of the year T.J. Warren recovered from early foul trouble to finish with 25 points.