KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Saint Louis committed 10 first-half turnovers against No. 12 Kansas on Tuesday night.
The Billikens spent the rest of the game trying to recover.
Cody Ellis scored 19 points, Mike McCall Jr. added 13 and Saint Louis charged back in the second half to make it tight against the Jayhawks, finally succumbing down the stretch in a 73-59 loss in the championship game of the CBE Classic.
"We came out flat, you know? I don't know the reason for that, we just got to be ready to go from the very start," Ellis said. "We did come out a bit flat. Against a good team like Kansas, you can't do that. That's where they'll step on your throat."
Jeff Withey matched a career high with 25 points, and Travis Releford scored 21 of his 23 points in the first half as Kansas (4-1) improved to 16-4 all-time at the Sprint Center, the site of this season's Big 12 tournament and where the Jayhawks return to play Oregon State next week.
"They have good players all over the place," Saint Louis interim coach Jim Crews said, "so as soon as you plug this hole, another hole opens up. That's why they're pretty good."
The Jayhawks got off to the same kind of start they had the previous night, when they buried Washington State under a 21-5 onslaught. Releford keyed it with back-to-back 3-pointers, and Elijah Johnson's only basket of the first half finished off an opening 14-4 run.
After the Billikens (2-2) clawed back within four, Releford and Withey combined to score 14 straight points as Kansas established a 28-10 edge and threatened to put the game away.
"Travis was unbelievable the first half. They made the decision not to guard him, so he was unbelievable, made them pay," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "And the reason Jeff had the big second half is they started to guard Travis."
Saint Louis never wavered, though, even after Jordair Jett limped to the locker room late in the half, and despite playing without top scorer Kwamain Mitchell due to a broken foot.
McCall hit a long 3-pointer late in the half, and another triple by Jake Barnett – one of three he had on the night – helped get the Billikens within 39-25 at the break.
Releford was 6 of 11 from the field in the first half; Saint Louis was 6 of 23.
"We were playing off him a little bit in the first half. That wasn't real wise on my part, I guess," Crews said. "He shot the ball a little bit better than we thought he would."
Despite the Billikens' sloppy offense, they still were within striking distance.
McCall's 3-pointer out of halftime closed the gap to 11, but Withey converted a three-point play off a nifty feed from Kevin Young, and McLemore followed up a 3-pointer with a scooping layup, allowing the Jayhawks to restore a 47-30 cushion with about 17 minutes left.
That's just about when Ellis started to heat up.
His basket with 14:25 left got the Billikens within 50-36, and he converted a three-point play with under 10 minutes to go that made it 57-45. The senior forward from Perth, Australia, then hit back-to-back 3-pointers a couple minutes later to trim the deficit to 10 points.
Kansas kept trying to deliver the knockout blow, and the Billikens kept dodging it.
McCall answered a basket by Releford that threatened to raise the roof at the Sprint Center, which was filled with a pro-Kansas crowd, and then Ellis knocked down another off-balance 3-pointer from the wing to get Saint Louis within 65-56 with just under 4 minutes to go.
Withey converted a three-point play, though, and after Ellis misfired from long range, the Jayhawks' 7-footer dunked at the other end to make it 70-56 and effectively put the game away.
"Our two leading scorers are probably our two best defenders, too," Self said, "and I really think if you don't worry about scoring, scoring naturally comes, and that's what happened."