St. Louis had to wait 12 years to get back into the NCAA tournament.
And Kwamain Mitchell made sure the Billikens didn’t waste a rare trip back.
In a ragged, physical matchup with Memphis that saw plenty of one-on-one play and not much in the way of offense, the junior guard shouldered the scoring load to lead the Billikens to a 61-54 win in Columbus.
Mitchell poured in 22 points and hit four three-pointers to help St. Louis surge ahead late in the second half, and the Billikens’ defense — aided by ice cold shooting from Memphis — took care of the rest.
The Billikens and Tigers went into the half tied at 23 after Mitchell banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer. But the two teams combined for only 11 points in the first six minutes of the second half as missed jumpshots and free throws compounded the sloppy play on both ends of the floor.
Memphis used a 9-0 run to take a 33-27 lead with 13:43 left in the second half, but another Mitchell three-pointer put the Billikens back on top for good with just over six minutes left.
Will Barton had 16 points to lead the Tigers who made only two of 15 three pointers and were held 21 points below their season average. St. Louis has now held eight teams to their season low in scoring this season.
Coach Rick Majerus and the Billikens are back in the tournament for the first time since 2000, when they fell in the first round to the Majerus-coached Utah Utes. Their last win came in 1998 when they defeated Massachussetts in the first round before losing to Kentucky.
Box score: Memphis 61, St. Louis 54
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