ST. LOUIS (AP) _ The memories of falling to Butler by 30 points last season still remained fresh in Javon Bess’ head as he took the court on Saturday with the task of guarding Bulldogs leading scorer Kamar Baldwin.
Bess held Baldwin to six points and added 18 points of his own in Saint Louis’ 64-52 win over Butler on Saturday.
“He’s the best defender in the country when it comes to guards,” Saint Louis coach Travis Ford said. “Facts speak.”
“We told these guys earlier in the week this was a get-back game,” Bess said. “They embarrassed us last year. We just had a little extra incentive to play hard.”
Tramaine Isabell, Jr., was the only other Billikens scorer in double figures with 10 points, and Hasahn French added nine points and eight rebounds after missing last year’s contest in Indianapolis with an injury. All five Saint Louis starters finished with at least eight points.
“That’s just who we are,” Fordsaid. “That’s just the way we really run our offense. That’s the way we do things. The ball is really spread out. That doesn’t really shock me.”
Saint Louis (6-1) broke the game open with a 17-0 run that commenced when Bess hit a 3-pointer with 5:37 remaining for his first points of the game.
The Billikens held the Bulldogs (5-2) without a point for a span of 8:11 after Sean McDermott hit a 3-pointer with 5:55 remaining in the first half.
McDermott led Butler with 12 points on four 3-point baskets, all coming in the first half, and Aaron Thompson added 11.
“I thought we came out well,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “When they swung back we didn’t respond well.”
Fred Thatch Jr. slammed down a dunk for two of his career-best seven points with 3:32 remaining in the first half to put Saint Louis up to stay.
“I knew it was a big win,” Thatch said. “Last year I watched the game on TV and I saw they didn’t play too good and Butler played really good, so they kind of humiliated them.”
Baldwin entered the game pacing the Bulldogs at 19.7 points per game and finished with a season-low six points but tied Henry Baddley for the team lead with nine rebounds
“They were the tougher team,” Jordan said. “We held them to 64, but they were more physical. When we were driving the basketball we missed some shots at the rim.”
Saint Louis pulled down 28 defensive rebounds and recorded eight steals but struggled in transition with just two fast-break points.
Butler hit just 18 of 64 shots from the field as Saint Louis forced 14 turnovers and blocked eight shots led by Carte’Are Gordon’s four.
“I thought this was the best game we had as far as protecting the rim, blocking shots, rotating, getting steals,” Ford said. “I thought we had gotten away from it a couple games of not protecting the rim the way we’re capable of.”
HEAD TO HEAD
Saint Louis improves to 20-12 lietime against Butler dating back to the 1979-1980 season. Prior to last year’s 75-45 defeat, the Billikens won all three matchups versus Butler in the 2012-2013 season, which marked the Bulldogs’ lone campaign in the Atlantic-10.
Butler: The Bulldogs are 0-2 against Atlantic-10 foes this season. Butler fell to Dayton 69-64 on Nov. 21 for its only other loss of the season.
“This league’s a tough league,” Jordan said. “We’ve played two teams out of the Atlantic-10 and they’re pretty good. These guys went to Seton Hall and won and lost to Pitt by two. They’ve got some veteran players, and they’re doing a really good job.”
Saint Louis: The Billikens are predicted to win the Atlantic-10, earning 15 of 26 first-place votes from coaches and media in contrast to Ford’s first season two years ago when they were predicted to finish in last place. They improved to 5-0 at home. Their only loss this season came against Pitt on a neutral court at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Butler: Hosts Brown Wednesday night
Saint Louis: At Southern Illinois Wednesday night