By: Alex Crook
SMC Athletic Communication
MORAGA, Calif. — More than 3,500 people filled McKeon Pavilion to the brim Saturday night to take in the much-anticipated game against top-ranked Gonzaga, one that required No. 20 Saint Mary’s to play as perfect a game as head coach Randy Bennett could ask for. The Gaels (22-3, 12-2 WCC) made the presence felt at times, but were overwhelmed by Gonzaga’s hot shooting in the 74-64 loss in front of another ruckus crowd.
The West Coast Conference’s banner matchup was a nose-to-nose battle for the most part, similar to earlier this year in Spokane. Saint Mary’s swapped scoring bursts with Gonzaga (26-0, 14-0 WCC) in their first visit from a No. 1 team since 1955, but not before allowing the Bulldogs to hit their first 10 shots.
“You try to throw the first punch when you’re at home,” said Joe Rahon, who recorded a game-high six assists to go with nine points. “Credit to Gonzaga, they made a lot of shots. Credit to them for making them but we need to come out and play better defensively.”
Jock Landale, who was on close watch all night long by Gonzaga’s interior defenders, finished the first half with 12 of his game-high 24 points, including a 6-0 run going into halftime to bring the Gaels within nine.
Saint Mary’s forced nine Gonzaga turnovers on the night and answered the bell whenever called upon to play catch up, but couldn’t overcome the Bulldogs’ stout defense.
“We felt like we came in and weren’t playing our A-game defensively,” Landale said. “If we come against them in the WCC Tournament or wherever it may be, I think if we play a lot harder then we’ll give ourselves a much better chance of keeping the game closer.”
Saint Mary’s caused problems for Gonzaga early in the second half though, with a corner three from Calvin Hermanson capping a 7-2 run and inching the Gaels to within five with the Bulldogs making just one of their last previous field goals in a three-minute span. The Gaels trailed closer behind the Bulldogs in the second half than the first, coming as close as within five.
Still in second place in the WCC standings, the Gaels have four more league games until they battle in Las Vegas for the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Despite the end of the season being so near, the postseason remains a blur.
“It all depends how we finish,” Bennett said. “There’s a body of work there. It sounds crazy, but it’s too early to tell. It’s such a fine line at this level.”
The Gaels will return to action against on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. when they host Loyola Marymount. For tickets, visit the tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office during weekday business hours at (925) 631-GoTx (4689). Viewers can also catch the action live on CSN California and listen in on TuneIn.
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