SAN FRANCISCO — In the 177th meeting between the two Bay Area rivals, and the first career matchup between head coaches Randy Bennett and his longtime assistant Kyle Smith, No. 19 Saint Mary’s pulled off a true grinder at War Memorial Gymnasium with a gritty, 63-52 victory over San Francisco Saturday night.
The Gaels had three players score in double-digits, led by Jock Landale’s 21 points. The 6-11 big man secured his sixth double-double of the season with 11 rebounds. Dane Pineau had his best night of the season with a 14 point, 12 rebound performance in a season-high 35 minutes. Senior guard Joe Rahon added 13 points (4-for-8 FG), five boards and four assists. Rahon now has played the entirety of a game 17 times in his career as a Gael.
Saint Mary’s finished the game shooting below its season’s average (50.5 percent) as the team shot 43.8 percent for the match. The team found its stride in the final 10 minutes of the game, finishing the second-half shooting 52.4 percent (11-of-21 FG).
The Gaels physicality on the inside gave the team a boost, as SMC outrebounded USF, 43-27, and tied a season-high seven blocks.
“We made some key blocks and we went after the ball really hard,” said head coach Randy Bennett. “I thought some of our deal is attrition. Landale and Pineau down low the whole time, you are going to force fouls and guys are just going to get worn out. I think that played into the game a bit.”
Senior Ronnie Boyce hit some big shots for the Dons and led his team with a high of 19 points on 8-for-17 from the floor. For the game, USF shot a low 37 percent, and just 28.6 percent in the second-half (10-of-35).
The Gaels will now embark on their annual trip up north to the Pacific Northwest, starting with a Thursday night match at Portland (8 p.m.) that can be seen on ESPNU. SMC will then fly out of Portland for a clash of WCC powerhouses, as the Gaels will play at undefeated Gonzaga on ESPN2, Saturday, Jan.14 at 7 p.m. Fans can also listen in on the action through the TuneIn radio app with Alex Jensen on the call.
Trailing USF by two midway in the second-half, the Gaels went on a quick 6-0 run to lead 46-42. Landale scored all six points during the run with the first two coming off a thunderous slam dunk.
SMC would never look back, as the team finished the game strong. Leading by one, 48-47, Landale would score another strong finish around the rim to extend the lead to three. The Gaels seemed to turn the night around at the 6:56 mark as Tanner Krebs knocked down a crucial three-pointer for the 55-49 lead.
Pineau followed the act from the exact spot, with a clutch corner trey of his own as the shot-clock expired to extend the lead to nine points.
“Bottom line is we made some crucial threes,” said Bennett. “It was a close game, and those threes stretched it from a four-point game to a ten-point game. Tanner hit one, and Dane hit one so those were big for us.”
The WCC’s top defensive unit, SMC forced the Dons to zero field-goals during a four-minute stretch. The Gaels’ lockdown defense forced stop-after-stop, and ultimately made the Dons convert just two of their last 14 field-goal attempts.
For the match, SMC defended the three-ball well, as the Dons were able to convert just 3-of-16 from beyond the arc.
The first-half was a sluggish start for the Gaels as the team struggled to get anything going offensively. The Gaels shot just 37 percent on 10-for-27 while USF converted on 50 percent (12-for-24). USF went on a 10-4 run in the remaining 4:47 of the half to take a 28-26 lead at the end of the half.
The tenacity on the glass proved to be the key in keeping the game close, as SMC outrebounded the Dons 20-12. The Gaels continued to be active on the offensive glass with eight offensive rebounds compared to one by the Dons.
Trailing 8-5 in the early moments of the first, the Gaels went on an 8-0 run to take a 13-8 lead. Jock Landale strung together back-to-back baskets to give the Gaels its first lead of the game at 9-8. Landale scored six of the team’s first nine points as the big man went to work down low in the paint.
The Dons went on their own run to end the half, as a Remu Raitanen three-pointer gave USF the 26-22 advantage with under two minutes to play. Free-throws by Rahon and Landale tied the game at 26-26, but a strong finish at the rim by Ronnie Boyce gave USF the two-point advantage into the locker rooms.
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