By: Ryan Moran
SMC Athletic Communications
MORAGA, Calif. — After dropping just their second conference loss to No. 1 Gonzaga on Saturday, No. 22 Saint Mary’s (23-3, 13-2 WCC) bounced back with a dominating 81-48 rout over the Loyola Marymount Lions during Thursday’s contest at McKeon Pavilion.
And while the first few minutes saw an active, high percentage exchange from both sides, the deciding tempo was established early by the Gaels. From then on, they never let up. It was the consistent cutthroat defense matched by surgeon like shooting that facilitated the rout, marking Saint Mary’s 11th straight win over the Lions.
“I didn’t see that game going that way,” said head coach Randy Bennett. “I was pretty focused on this being a tight game, but we were able to separate early.”
The second half lead never dipped below 21 and along the way three Gaels made it into double figures. They held the Lions to 38 percent from the field while racking an impressive 59.6 of their own. The Gaels held the rebound advantage 37-to-19 and demonstrated the byproduct of stellar ball movement while out-assisting the Lions 19-to-7.
Sophomore forward Evan Fitzner scored a season high 13 points in the first half alone. His previous high (12) came against UC Irvine on December 11, 2016. Of the 13, nine came byway of three-pointers, also matching his season high.
“I think it’s big going forward,” Fitzner said on his ability to take scoring pressure off leading scorer Jock Landale. “Teams are starting to queue on Jock and do everything they can to stop him.”
It was double trouble for the Lions, because by the time the first half concluded, Landale had already notched his twelfth double-double while going nearly perfect from the field (6-for-7). Landale finished off the night leading all scorers with 16 points and 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Gaels scoring defense continues to flourish. They entered Thursday night’s bout allowing just 55.9 points per game, good for first in the conference and second in the nation. Brandon Brown led the way for the Lions (12-14, 5-10 WCC) with 10 points. He was the only Lion to reach double digits.
Additionally, there was aggressive utilization of minutes for freshman forward Tanner Krebs, who came in off the bench midway through the first half and contributed seven points of a 15-2 run. In total, the second stringers totaled 29 points, an impressive contribution on a night where shooting percentage was high. Senior center Dane Pineau led this pack with eight points and six rebounds.
“I think some guys are starting to gain confidence,” says Bennett on the benches role. “That’s a big key to this team.”
There’s three games left before the WCC Championship, two of which are on the road. And next up is at the Marriot Center in Provo, Utah — one of the most challenging places to play in the conference. On Thursday, the Gaels turned in one of their most well balanced games of the season. Couple this with the displayed depth dominance and you have “just what the doctor ordered,” as Saint Mary’s reaches the point where every game is precious.
“It’s one of those atmospheres — it’s tough,” said Bennett.
The road match-up at at BYU is on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. The contest will air live on ESPN2. For tickets, visit the tickets link on SMCGaels.com. Viewers can also listen to the action live through the TuneIn app.
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