KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Saint Louis has already dealt with its share of adversity this year.
Rick Majerus took a leave of absence in August, and then officially resigned as the Billikens' coach last week amid health concerns. Two of their top players have been dealing with injuries, and a stunning loss to Santa Clara left their whole program dazed and confused.
A blowout win over Texas A&M came at just the right time.
Dwayne Evans matched a career high with 21 points, Mike McCall Jr. added 13 and Saint Louis rolled to a 70-49 victory Monday night over the Aggies in the semifinals of the CBE Classic.
"These guys have been very resilient with a lot of adversity," interim coach Jim Crews said. "We've had more than our share with a lot of situations, but it is what it is."
The Billikens (2-1), who are playing without leading scorer Kwamain Mitchell because of a broken foot, did get Cory Remekun back from a knee injury. He finished with 12 points.
Saint Louis will play No. 12 Kansas in the title game Tuesday night.
"It felt great to get back out there," said Remekun, who was 5 of 6 from the field. "I was itching to get back out there. I've been trying to play the last two games."
Elston Turner had 16 points and Ray Turner added 10 for the Aggies, but Fabyon Harris was just 2 for 10 from the field and Texas A&M committed 19 turnovers while getting out-rebounded 31-25.
All of which added up to a lopsided game in which the Aggies were never competitive.
"They were just being physical, and we were not making smart decisions," Elston Turner said. "When you do that, you're going to get yourself in a hole."
Saint Louis built a double-digit lead midway through the first half, using scrappy man-to-man defense in the half court to prevent Texas A&M from getting good looks at the basket.
It helped that the Billikens knocked down a couple 3-pointers, too.
They slowly pushed the advantage to 17-7 when Harris committed one of the Aggies' seven first-half turnovers and Ellis finished off a dunk at the other end of the court, forcing Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy to burn a timeout at the midway point of the first half.
Even when the Aggies managed to work the ball inside, Saint Louis simply fouled them as they put the ball up, and then watched on as they clanked just about every foul shot off the iron.
After shooting 82.2 percent from the free-throw line in their first three wins, the Aggies were just 2 of 8 in the first half Monday night. Most of the misses didn't even come close, bouncing harmlessly away, and on a couple occasions resulting in run-outs for Saint Louis.
The Aggies finished just 8 of 18 from the foul line.
"Got to give Saint Louis a lot of credit," Kennedy said. "They were more physical than us. You could tell they had veterans on the floor. They did a very good job of moving the ball, and defensively they caused us problems, forcing us into taking some quick shots."
Texas A&M trimmed its deficit to 35-27 in the opening minutes of the second half, but the Billikens embarked on a 12-2 run over the next 4-plus minutes, and then answered every play made by the Aggies on the offensive end with one of their own to put the game away.
It was precisely the kind of effort that would have made Majerus proud.
The longtime coach, who has had a history of heart problems, returned the Billikens to the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in 12 years. And with four starters back, Saint Louis has been labeled by some as a dark horse pick to win the Atlantic 10 this year.
Then the school announced Majerus was taking a leave of absence on Aug. 24, and the news came down last Friday that he would not be returning to the school.
"Anyone that knows Rick, or doesn't know Rick, he hasn't been very healthy for a long time, and certainly this latest situation, whatever this situation is, has presented itself," Crews said.
"I mean, coaching isn't a healthy profession to begin with. I'm not trying to be facetious."