Dwayne Evans poured in 24 points, including 16 in a first half in which he equaled New Mexico State's total, as Saint Louis used suffocating defense early and an opportunistic offense late while cruising to a 64-44 victory Thursday afternoon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional at HP Pavilion.
The Billikens' 16th victory in their last 17 games advanced them to a third-round matchup Saturday in San Jose against No. 12 Oregon.
Evans, the Most Outstanding Player of last week's Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament in Brooklyn, got inside the New Mexico State zone defense for three open jumpers just inside the free-throw line, accounting for six of his 16 first-half points and helping the Billikens (28-6) run off to a 29-16 halftime advantage.
Cody Ellis balanced Evans' interior attack with a pair of 3-pointers, two of three the Billikens made in the half, as Saint Louis, ranked 13th in this week's USA Today Coaches Poll, was able to overcome 13 New Mexico State offensive rebounds and a 25-17 deficit on the boards overall through 20 minutes.
After a first half in which it shot poorly in every aspect of the game – 0-for-1 on free throws, 0-for-3 on 3-pointers and 8-for-31 overall – New Mexico State (24-11) upped the tempo after halftime and made a game of it for eight minutes.
Bandja Sy, who had missed five of his seven shots in the first half, hit three straight, including a 3, to open the second period, and when he dropped in a pair of free throws at the 12:57 mark, the Aggies of the Western Athletic Conference suddenly were back within 39-33.
But Saint Louis center Cory Remekun dropped in a free throw and then slammed in a dunk and Jordair Jett converted a steal into a fast-break layup, allowing the Billikens to re-establish a double-digit lead en route to its school-record 28th win of the season.
Evans' 24-point total came on 11-of-16 shooting, Ellis, who had three 3's, also reached double figures with 12 points, as did Remekun with 11.
Sy led New Mexico State, which suffered its seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament loss dating back to 1993, with 17 points despite missing 14 of his 20 shots.
All told, the Aggies were held to 27.9-percent shooting overall and missed 14 of their 16 3-point attempts against a Saint Louis defense that held an opponent under 60 points for the 22nd time this season.
Despite being seriously outsized upfront, the Billikens were able to hold 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar, the Most Valuable Player of the WAC Tournament, to just four points. Bhullar did manage a game-high 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in 27 minutes.
NOTES: Saint Louis also won its NCAA Tournament opener last year, beating Memphis before falling to top-seeded Michigan State in the third round. … Evans became the 28th player in Saint Louis history to pass 1,000 points in his career. The junior's total now stands at 1,008. … New Mexico State captain Tyrone Watson, who had missed the team's previous four games with an ankle injury, was able to come off the bench for seven first-half minutes. He didn't score. … The game was a rematch of each school's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance on the 61st anniversary of the contest. Saint Louis beat New Mexico State 62-53 in Kansas City on March 21, 1952. … The teams hadn't met since the 1974-75 season, with the Billikens now leading the all-time season series 5-2. … New Mexico State was playing its second game in San Jose in five weeks, having beaten WAC foe San Jose State 67-57 across town on the Spartans' campus on Valentine's Day. … Saint Louis made only one previous trip to the West Coast this season and lost that game 66-61 at Washington.