The game somewhat culminated the collegiate careers of two star seniors.
SLU fans must have read a few articles recently about their contained behavior, because Tuesday’s sold out crowd against Xavier delivered in a big way. The night was dedicated to Kyle Cassity and Brian Conklin, the lone seniors who will graduate this May with honors and Academic All-American accolades.
At one point during the post-game ceremonies, I forgot about the game. Frankly, I think a lot of people did. Dry eyes were scarce as Rick Majerus paid tribute to his senior leaders.
Brian Conklin, the 6’6 forward from Eugene, Oregon played maybe the best game of his career. In 36 minutes, Conklin scored 26 points (9-10 FT) and snagged 6 rebounds. His unmatched intensity showed as he fearlessly took over the game.
Then you have Kyle Cassity. The senior point guard who competes at a level most would have no interest in after having a reduced role. He became a secondary option in a 9-man rotation for the Billikens. But Cassity never gave in. In fact, he gave more. He won’t light up the box score, but he contributes in ways that stats can’t measure: leadership, academics, and as Majerus calls them, “hockey assists”. Cassity was often the 2nd assist on a scoring play, which cannot be undermined.
So…the game. The first half was awful. I could almost hear the N.I.T. chants in the back of my head. Another let down looming for a team that can’t get over the hurdle.
Down 39-29 at half, whatever Coach Majerus said during the break sparked some life. Defense, actually. The Bills came out and found their identity. The defensive effort was staggering. It ignited a 23-4 run to begin the half.
Xavier knocked, but Conklin just kept slamming the damn door shut.
The “blizzard” Chaifetz crowd roared as the clock expired. The Bills outscored Xavier 41-20 in the 2nd half, winning 70-59. The win locked up a 4th seed in the A-10 tournament for SLU, who are likely to secure a NCAA tournament bid.
It’s hard not to commend a team like SLU. They don’t allocate big money to recruits, they have a great arena, which holds under 11,000 people, and they have a coach who legitimately cares about his people. Not players, people. He constantly praises their success off the court, because as people that’s what matters more. It’s inspiring.
So the Billikens won the game, but Cassity and Conklin stole the show. They went out with a bang.
Fortunately though, the ride’s not quite over.