Saint Louis’ Mike Crawford finds scoring touch through defense

Peter Aiken | USA TODAY Sports Images
Mike Crawford scored 19 points on Wednesday.

ST. LOUIS — Former Saint Louis teammate Rob Loe got in Mike Crawford’s ear last season, suggesting Crawford should focus his effort in practice on the defensive end of the floor. The offensive part, he told Crawford, would happen.

And besides, Loe might have recognized what Crawford already knew — that he just wasn’t all that good defensively.

“Rob would always say, ‘If you’re playing defense well, your offense will come, especially in this offense,’ ” Crawford said. “That made a lot of sense. He was a great defensive player. Rob kind of just told you how it was, that’s all there is to it.”

So, it was natural for coach Jim Crews to praise Crawford’s best offensive game for the Billikens in their win Wednesday against Texas-Pan American by noting his dedication to defense.

He compared the 6-foot-4 sophomore Crawford’s potential to that of former Billikens Mike McCall and Jake Barnett, who arrived as poor defensive players and made it a strength.

“When you do extra work before or after practice, no one thinks of doing defensive slides,” Crews said. “Mike has been very dedicated to do the extra, putting the time into being committed to it, and it’s paying off for him.”

The offensive part did come around in SLU’s last outing. Crawford came off the bench to score 19 points, making three of four 3-pointers and eight of 10 free throws.

He then revealed after the game that he had been battling an unknown medical issue that led to a loss of 10 pounds and a general decrease in strength. With the weight regained, Crawford is feeling his old energy despite never getting a diagnosis on his problem.

Crawford had averaged 12 minutes during a seven-game stretch before playing 25 and 26 minutes in the past two games. His 19-point effort was a career high, pushing his average to 6.0 for the season.

“I really feel strong physically and have a little bit more energy at times,” he said. “It’s more like a confidence thing. You feel stronger out there and so you can do some things you probably couldn’t have done earlier. I just physically feel stronger and mentally it helps, too.”

Nov. 15 Southern Illinois 4-6 10
Nov. 18 Indiana State 2-5 8
Nov. 23 Texas A&M-Corpus 1-2 2
Nov. 25 North Carolina A&T 0-4 4
Nov. 28 Mississippi State 1-3 2
Nov. 29 Bradley 2-4 4
Dec. 2 Rockhurst 2-3 6
Dec. 6 Wichita State 1-2 2
Dec. 9 South Dakota State 2-2 5
Dec. 13 SIUE 1-3 4
Dec. 17 Texas Pan-American 4-8 19

Crawford never missed practice as he was losing weight. He scheduled trips to see doctors for tests around his classes and basketball.

Eventually, he started feeling better and gaining weight with the help of a little additional food. The reason for his sluggishness never was determined.

“Whatever it was, it’s gone now, that’s all that really matters,” he said. “I never got an explanation whatsoever.”

The Billikens could use another steady offensive source. Crawford averaged 27.7 points as a senior at Tipton (Indiana) High, but it was a slightly different method than he could expect in college.

He played anything from point guard to center, depending on the opponent. Crawford scored a majority of his points under the basket and on free throws with the help, he said, of maybe one 3-pointer per game.

At SLU he has displayed a good ability to get to the rim and can keep defenses honest with his perimeter ability if he continues to shoot as he did against Texas-Pan American.

“In high school I didn’t shoot very much,” he said. “I really shot layups, so that was my game. I guess it’s a little different here, but I can still attack the rim a little, and I’ve worked on my jump shot a lot.”

Crawford played in 24 games as a freshman and made appearances in all but two Atlantic 10 Conference games. His average of 7.5 minutes was fairly impressive given the makeup of an experienced team that was headed for a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

Crews saw some things in Crawford, possibly a lot of it coming from the effort he put forward in practice. He fully expects Crawford to overcome some of the shortcomings he had when he arrived.

“I’m not going to say Mike is a great athlete, because he’s not,” Crews said. “But he’s going to get better and better because he can do some pretty good athletic things also.”