MORAGA, Calif. -- Those looking for a drastic philosophy shift from the Saint Mary's basketball team in Friday's season opener against Louisiana Tech instead got treated to a fine display of the basic principles that have served the Gaels oh so well in recent seasons.
A career night from big man Brad Waldow, coupled with a good stretch of defense in the second half added up to a 83-70 Saint Mary's win before a strong opening-night crowd at McKeon Pavilion.
Waldow set a career high in scoring with 28 points, eclipsing his previous best of 23 set last season against San Diego. Stephen Holt chipped in with his usual strong all-around game, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Raheem Appleby led Louisiana Tech with 18.
"This team has a chance to really grow," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Their potential is pretty high, but we're not anywhere near that. We did a good job for the most part of handling their pressure and executing offensively. I thought we had some big lapses defensively and on the boards. We haven't been good there in our scrimmages, so we have to get better."
Saint Mary's (1-0) and Louisiana Tech (0-1) appeared evenly matched for most of the night, but it was a stretch early in the second half that saw the Gaels achieve a bit of distance from their counterparts from Ruston.
The momentum started with a bit of ball movement from guard Jordan Giusti. The sophomore from Danville, Calif. knifed into the lane and kicked to a wide open Holt in the corner for an open 3. Holt drained the shot, giving Saint Mary's its largest lead of the night at that point at 51-44 with 14:49 left.
After two free throws by Louisiana Tech, Holt knocked down another 3 to keep the Saint Mary's lead growing. Levesque added a layup under pressure, and with 12:53 remaining, Saint Mary's had its first double-digit lead at 56-46.
The Bulldogs would never get much closer as Saint Mary's was able to salt away the victory by holding steady the rest of the night. SMC finished with an emphatic 38-28 advantage on the glass to help put away the win.
The constant throughout the night was Waldow, as the junior from Shingle Springs, Calif. enjoyed his finest night as a Gael.
Whether it was an up and under move, a putback off an offensive rebound or just a good old fashioned throwdown at the rim, the Gaels' big man had his way in the low post. He also finished with eight rebounds and two blocks in a strong defensive performance. He enjoyed a good night at the charity stripe as well, going six for eight from the line.
"He was the key to the game," Bennett said. "He gave us something first half that we could go to and get baskets. I thought he kept dominating for the course of the game. He played against a good player and played well."
Saint Mary's turned a typically grinding first half into a lead at the break thanks to contributions from the majority of the team.
The Gaels trailed for most of the first half, never by more than a few, but it wasn't until the 4:48 mark that Holt got the score back to even when a 3-pointer from the angle fell to make it 27-all.
Just over a minute later, James Walker III gave Saint Mary's its first lead since 2-0 when his drive and layup found the bottom of the twine and made it 29-27.
The two teams traded blows for most of the rest of the half, but a strong finish to the period gave the Gaels the halftime advantage. Waldow converted one of his trademark up and under layups to put SMC up by two, then Garrett Jackson sank two free throws with 0.02 seconds left to leave the lead at four heading to the locker room.
"An emphasis we had was to weather the storm. We wanted to go out the first five minutes (of the second half) and beat them at their game," Waldow said.
The game represented the first in Moraga since the graduation of all-time scoring leader Matthew Dellavedova. Holt impressed in his shift to the point guard position, and Jordan Giusti also took valuable turns at the spot as the Gaels won their first game in the post-Dellavedova era.
Saint Mary's returns to the court on Tuesday morning for a midnight special as the Gaels host Akron as part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. The game will be televised by ESPN2 and live statistics will be available through SMCGaels.com. Tickets are available by clicking the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx.