And just like that, the Saint Louis Billikens won the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament and punched their ticket to the NCAA’s Big Dance. Four straight wins, culminated by an exciting 55-53 victory over St. Bonaventure, and head coach Travis Ford and the Billikens earned an automatic bid to the 2019 NCAA tournament. And it wasn’t easy.
With a depleted roster heading into the conference tournament, Ford and company entered as the No. 6 seed. The Billikens would beat Richmond 71-68 in the second round of the A-10 tourney behind 22 points and 12 rebounds from 6-7 sophomore Hasahn French. Saint Louis, which had lost to the Spiders in regular season play, fell behind by as many as 11 in the second half and rallied for the win.
The Billikens’ victory over Richmond earned them a quarterfinal round matchup with third-seeded Dayton, which had finished 13-5 in conference play. The Flyers split two regular season games with Saint Louis this year. Graduate transfer Tramaine Isabell Jr., the Billikens second-leading scorer (13.9 ppg), scored 24 points to lead Saint Louis to the upset.
Ford’s squad did all the little things necessary to advance in the conference tournament. Against the Flyers, Saint Louis held on to the basketball – with just nine turnovers – and shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range. The Billikens defense also forced 16 Dayton turnovers.
Saint Louis (23-12, 10-8) then took on second-seeded Davidson and blew the Wildcats out, 67-44. Again, Isabell was on fire scoring 19 points and dishing out eight assists for the winners. Senior Javon Bess led Saint Louis with 24 points.
The Billikens had lost their final regular season game of the year to St. Bonaventure just a little over a week prior to facing the Bonnies in the A-10 final. The title game did not start well for the Billikens as they missed their first 11 shots and fell behind by 15.
Give Ford credit though as the Billikens simply found a way to get the job done playing outstanding defense and grabbing 15 offensive rebounds. Ford kept St. Bonaventure off guard by switching from man-to-man to zone defense and his Billikens helped by committing just six turnovers.
For the tournament, Isabell scored 69 points and had 24 assists. His performance helped Saint Louis earn a No. 13 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Billikens will face No. 4 seed Virginia Tech (24-8, 12-6), which finished fifth in the ACC this season. The game is Friday in San Jose, California. Game will be televised on TruTV scheduled for 8:57 PM local time.