SAN JOSE, Calif. — Saint Louis had no problem maneuvering around 7-foot-5 freshman Sim Bhullar and New Mexico State.
Dwayne Evans scored 24 points, Cody Ellis added 12 points and the fourth-seeded Billikens overwhelmed the Aggies 64-44 in the second round of the NCAA tournament Thursday.
Playing with a heavy heart since Rick Majerus died in December, Saint Louis reached another mark in March for its late coach. The Billikens (28-6) eclipsed the 1988-89 team’s school record of 27 victories.
Evans shot 11 of 16 from the floor and finished a point shy of his career best to propel Saint Louis past Bhullar. The Billikens held Bhullar to four points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Bandja Sy had 17 points and nine rebounds for the 13th-seeded Aggies (24-11), who shot a miserable 28 percent. Saint Louis shot 46 percent and forced 16 turnovers.
The big man bothered the Billikens at first.
The lumbering center stayed around the rim while his other four teammates chased five players around the perimeter. The unconventional defensed allowed Bhullar to save energy and protect the paint.
Once Saint Louis solved the big man, it had no trouble on either end of the floor.
The Billikens pushed the pace and often left Bhullar in the backcourt, especially when New Mexico State committed seven turnovers in the first nine minutes. Evans pulled up for several uncontested jumpers just inside the free throw line, scoring 16 points during a 29-14 run to open the game.
Bhullar didn’t make his first shot until 3:49 left in the first half when he converted a short hook, and he didn’t register his first block until swatting Evans’ shot 2:37 into the second half.
After New Mexico State showed a brief burst of offense to slice Saint Louis’ lead to nine, the Billikens again leaned on Evans to pull away. He converted a pair of difficult reverse layups, outsmarting Bhullar around the rim to lift Saint Louis ahead 37-23.
The Aggies made their best run with Bhullar on the bench. Sy slammed an alley-hoop from Ross-Miller, and Evans added a 3-pointer to a cap an 8-0 run to come within six.
The highlights for the Aggies ended there.
Evans and Ellis — who wore a blue Mohawk-style strip across his hair — each made a 3-pointer during a 12-2 spurt for Saint Louis that put the game away. The Billikens led 49-34 with 9:30 remaining, and honored Majerus the best way they know: staying steady down the stretch to advance in the NCAA tournament.
Players wore a patch on their jerseys — a ribbon with the word “Coach” — as they have since Majerus died of heart failure in December. He left the team before the season because of health concerns, and Jim Crews has taken over and led the Billikens to the A-10 regular season and conference crowns.
The Billikens beat Memphis last year before losing in the round of 32 to Michigan State. They made their first opponent looked like a walkover, although that’s hardly been the case the past two months.
The Aggies closed out year winning 18 of 20 games, including the Western Athletic Conference tournament title for the second straight season. New Mexico State also was a No. 13 seed last season, losing 79-66 in the first round to Indiana.
The Aggies haven’t won a tournament game since beating Nebraska in the opening round in 1993.