MORAGA, Calif. -- It wasn't pretty at times, but the Saint Mary's men's basketball team seemed determined not to let anything stand in the way of history Thursday as the Gaels equaled their best start to a season with a 59-44 win over American at McKeon Pavilion.
With the win, Saint Mary's improves to 9-0, tying the 1988-89 Gaels for the best start in program history. That team, coached by Lynn Nance, went on to finish 25-5 and make the NCAA Tournament.
For the sixth time in the first nine games, Brad Waldow led Saint Mary's in the scoring category with 17 points. Beau Levesque added 10 points, James Walker III had a strong game with seven points and seven rebounds and Garrett Jackson added six points and 10 rebounds. Darius Gardner and Kyle Kager each had 13 points to lead American (3-6).
"I didn't think we played great, and I don't think they probably thought they played great either," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "It was kind of a grinding game. For us, a lot of turnovers. I did think we did a good job defensively. That's what I was concerned with going into that game, guarding them. It's hard to separate from them and we were able to do that a little bit."
Saint Mary's managed to build a modest seven-point lead by halftime, amassing an advantage despite committing 10 first half turnovers.
As has often been the case this season, the early game plan centered around Waldow and the big man from Shingle Springs, Calif. did not disappoint. He scored five of the Gaels' first eight points, with the final three coming on an old-fashioned three-point play.
With American beginning to turn its attention more towards Waldow, Saint Mary's showed its balance on the offensive end. The Gaels finished the half at an even 50 percent from the floor, making 11 of the 22 shots they took and shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc to help create the slight lead.
The first half was perhaps more notable for a pair of high-flying plays. Waldow got one started, blocking an American shot on the perimeter and creating a fast-break opportunity. Holt's outlet pass found Kerry Carter in full stride, and Carter threw it down for the two-handed jam to make it 12-5 early.
Garrett Jackson joined the air brigade a bit later, and again Waldow had a hand in the action. This time, the big man fed Jackson on the baseline and the transfer from USC responded, going high above the rim for a one-handed dunk that brought perhaps the biggest cheer of the game from the Saint Mary's crowd.
The inside emphasis continued early in the second half, and when Waldow wasn't scoring, he kept plenty busy at the free-throw line. Slowly but surely, the lead continued to grow and a 3-pointer from the wing by Carter with 11:38 left made it 47-31 Saint Mary's and put the game out of reach for good.
"We still won by double digits but I feel like we're a better team than that," Waldow said. "Any win is a good win but we were a little disappointed in how we played."
Saint Mary's next game at McKeon Pavilion won't come until Jan. 6 when William Jessup visits for SMC's final non-conference game this season. That game is set for a 7 p.m. tip. More immediately, Saint Mary's will board a plane early Friday morning and head west as the Gaels get set to participate in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, Hawai'i. Play begins Sunday at 8 p.m. (PST) against South Carolina in a game televised nationally by ESPNU.