After blowing every bit of a 12-point lead it built midway through the second half, the Saint Louis University men's basketball team found itself tied at 53 with pesky Atlantic 10 Conference foe, Virginia Commonwealth University, with just over two minutes left in a tense and tight ballgame at Chaifetz Arena Saturday afternoon.
But the senior-laden Billikens didn't panic.
Instead, they relaxed and relied on each other to make all the big plays down the stretch, which included a pair of sensational layups by guards Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett, and a bring-the-house-down three-pointer by forward Rob Loe, which helped spark SLU to a thrilling finish and a 64-62 win over visiting VCU.
"When it comes down to it, the last two minutes, we really look at each other and say, 'Let's get it done,'" senior forward Dwayne Evans said after the Billikens raised their overall record to 23-2 and moved to 10-0 in Atlantic 10 Conference play. "They're a good team, so we knew they'd make a run."
The victory was also SLU's 17th in a row, which sets a new school record for consecutive wins. The previous record came more than 50 years ago, when the 1947-48 Billikens won five in a row to end the season and win the NIT, then began the next season with 11 straight victories, for 16 wins in a row.
The current batch of Billikens hasn't lost since suffering a 70-65 defeat against unbeaten Wichita State, which is currently ranked No. 2 in the country in the USA Today/Coaches poll.
"I think we're good, but we've got a lot of room for improvement," Jett said after tossing in 14 points, dishing out five assists, and grabbing six reboudns. "So we're going to take it day by day."
Evans led all scorers with 21 points and 10 rebounds, including three free throws in the final 25 seconds that helped put the game away.
His best stretch of play though, came midway through the second half, when he scored eight points during an 18-4 SLU run that helped the Billikens build that 12-point lead.
One highlight play came near the end of the run, when Evans ripped a rebound out of the hands of one VCU player then raced to the rim and dunked it home as the sold-out Chaifetz Arena crowd rose to its feet and cheered.
"We didn't play great, but we'll take the win," Evans said.
VCU didn't fold though. Instead, the Rams turned up the pressure on defense and forced the Billikens into a number of SLU head coach Jim Crews termed "almost goofy" turnovers.
The last of which led to a three-point play by VCU's Treveon Graham that tied the score with 2:17 left to play.
SLU got the lead back on its next possession, as McCall beat his man off the dribble and flipped in a short floater to make the score 55-53.
Then after a VCU miss, Jett found an opening in the lane and drove through for a sprawling lay-in that gave SLU a four-point edge.
The biggest shot of the game came next though, when Loe found himself wide open for a three that gave the Billikens a lead they weren't ever going to give back.
"It was certainly kind of a 15-rounder," Crews said. "They didn't let down when things didn't go our way. Nothing's easy."
The largest crowd in the history of Chaifetz Arena, an announced attendance of 10,639, packed the building for SLU's annual "Billiken Blizzard" game, and every one of them left excited, following the Billikens' school record-extending 17th straight win.
VCU fell to 20-6 overall and 8-3 in A-10 play.
SLU now has a three-game edge in the conference standings with just six games left to play.
Score ... 1 ... 2 - Final
VCU ... 27 .. 35 - 62
SLU .... 30 .. 34 - 64
VCU -- Treveon Graham 16, Juvonte Reddic 13, Briante Weber 12, Rob Brandenberg 7, Jordan Burgess 5, Mo Alie-Cox 4, Melvin Johnson 3, Jarred Guest 2.
SLU -- Dwayne Evans 21, Rob Loe 14, Jordair Jett 14, Mike McCall Jr. 12, Austin McBroom 2, Jake Barnett 1.
UPCOMING SLU BILLIKENS SCHEDULE
February 19 at George Mason ............ 6 p.m.
February 22 vs. George Washington ... 7 p.m.
February 27 vs. Duquesne .................. 7 p.m.
March 1 at VCU ................................ 5 p.m.
March 5 vs. Dayton ........................... 8 p.m.
March 9 at Massachusetts .................. 1 p.m.