OLEAN -- Dayton coach Brian Gregory submitted on Saturday that Saint Louis is playing as well as, perhaps even better than, anyone else in the Atlantic 10. The Billikens must have left that team back home.
For the second straight season St. Bonaventure handled Saint Louis with remarkable ease, riding Jonathan Hall's score-at-will 31-point performance to a 72-55 rout before 3,489 at the Reilly Center. The outcome put an end to Bona's mild two-game losing streak while dealing the Billikens only their second loss in the last eight games but their eighth defeat in 10 road starts.
Saint Louis, although heralded for its defense, had no answers for containing Hall. The muscular 6-foot-5 transfer from South Plains (Texas) Community College bettered his career-high by seven points while repeatedly piercing the lane to score on short jumpers and layups. He finished 11 for 15 from the field, added seven rebounds and four assists, and became the first Bonnie to surpass the 30-point mark since Zarryon Fereti had 32 in last year's home opener against Binghamton. Hall came into the game averaging 12.7 points.
Billikens coach Rick Majerus utilized a variety of defenders in an effort to slow Hall, although he singled out senior guard Tommie Liddell III as the player who was overmatched. "He kicked Tommie Liddell's butt, came out, put him in his pocket and took him to school," Majerus said.
Bona had more than an inkling Saint Louis could be had on the inside. The Billikens were outrebounded by 13 in a surprise win over Dayton on Saturday, yielding 22 offensive boards. Add that to the fact that Saint Louis (17-11, 8-6) has struggled on the road and the recipe for victory was apparent.
"I thought we could take advantage after watching the Dayton tape," Hall said. "I thought we could go inside a little bit. Every time they'd bring it over to me I'd try to post, and they'd empty out the backside so I knew I had one on one. So I kept trying to go, go, go."
"I knew that he could physically handle it," Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. "And once it worked at the beginning, I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but when something works you usually go back to it. And Jonathan made me look good. But, yeah, we really went at whoever was guarding Jonathan. . . . He was a hard guard today."
Hall produced five straight Bona baskets at one point in the first half, and then accounted for three of four as the Bonnies pushed their advantage to double digits by intermission. He was 8 of 11 from the field at the half, accounting for 18 of Bona's 32 points.
It was, in many respects, an exemplary first-half performance across the board. Bona (14-13, 5-9) shot 50 percent from the field, won the boards by seven and held the Billikens' starting backcourt of Liddell and Kevin Lisch to 1-for-8 shooting and seven points. And there was no letting up. While Lisch finished with 13 points, Liddell was held to seven and Saint Louis, shooting better than 44 percent from the field in conference play, never came close to that figure.
"I thought our defensive effort was the best of the season," Schmidt said. "To be able to hold those guys to 36 percent from the field and 23 percent [from three] and keeping Lisch and Liddell shooting 6 for 20, that's a great effort."
"Give them a lot of credit," Majerus said. "They played harder, with more purpose and with a higher degree of energy."
It was suggested recent battles against Saint Joseph's and 25th-ranked Dayton had taken a toll on Saint Louis. Majerus demured.
"You're 18 years old, you're 19, 20 years old," he said. "Somebody in Iraq tonight is, you know . . . I don't buy into that at all. I'm just disappointed in our seniors."
Other notable performances for the Bonnies came from forward Maurice Thomas (14 points, 5 of 6 from the field, nine rebounds) and guard Michael Davenport (eight points, 3 of 4 from the field).
St. Bonaventure, which won by 20 at Saint Louis last year, heads to Saint Joseph's on Saturday.