MORAGA, Calif. -- Matthew Dellavedova scored 19 points and the Saint Mary's men's basketball team outlasted a very game San Francisco squad to pick up a 78-72 West Coast Conference victory on Saturday at McKeon Pavilion.
Beau Levesque scored 15, finishing in double figures for the ninth time in his last 10 games. Stephen Holt added 16 and Mitchell Young chipped in with 14 for Saint Mary's (13-4, 2-1 WCC).
Cody Doolin scored 16 to lead San Francisco (7-9, 0-4). De'End Parker was the only other Don in double figures with 15.
With three minutes left to play, Saint Mary's held on to a narrow 65-60 lead with San Francisco trying to overtake the Gaels.
The lead stayed that way for the better part of the next minute, with only a free throw by Dellavedova and two by Cody Doolin making it 66-62 Gaels with two minutes to play.
San Francisco had a chance to cut a 68-62 deficit to three with just under a minute remaining, but Parker's 3-pointer from the top of the key glanced off the side of the rim. Young secured the rebound, got fouled, and made his two free throws to put Saint Mary's up 70-62 with 49.8 seconds left.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game. They've been playing everybody tough," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "I thought we played pretty well. We had a little lapse in the second half defensively where we were up 10 and had a chance to separate even more and didn't. ... They put on a little run and we've got to get better at that."
The Gaels held on from there, keeping the lead with good free throw shooting. That was a trend the entire contest, as Saint Mary's went 24 for 27 from the line.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, there was no separating the two teams.
They traded baskets and good defense, but while USF got contributions from several players, Saint Mary's got the bulk of its scoring from Dellavedova and Levesque.
But even with the close score, the Gaels kept trying to get into the lane and make plays. Holt did just that with 9:20 to play, driving into the lane, scoring on a tough shot and earning the foul. He went on to convert the free throw, and put Saint Mary's up 57-52.
Young kept that momentum rolling with two free throws on the next possession, putting the Gaels up by seven.
One key to Saint Mary's keeping the lead was tremendous ball pressure on defense. Whether it was Jordan Giusti, Holt or Dellavedova, the Gaels guards kept the pressure on and forced the Dons perimeter players to work extra hard for everything they got.
"We knew they were going to try to penetrate a lot and get kick outs. They shoot the 3 really well," Dellavedova said. "That's when they got on a bit of a run. We knew going in we had to try to stop the penetration to cut off the 3s."
Despite a number of runs by Saint Mary's in the first half, San Francisco took a 36-35 lead into halftime.
That advantage came courtesy of a very balanced attack. Cole Dickerson, Tim Derksen and Matt Christiansen all scored six in the first half, and De'End Parker and Mark Tollefsen each added five.
Saint Mary's began the game on a 7-2 run, with Holt contributing five in the streak, including a run-capping 3-pointer.
The Gaels had more mini-runs like that, with strong play from Matt Hodgson and Levesque off the bench helping to keep the Gaels in the lead until the end of the half.
"They do things that get you into games on the road, like shooting 3s and getting in transition," Levesque said. "They did that really well at the end of the first half, hit some shots and got some runouts. We just needed to stick with our principles. We knew we'd be able to pull it out if we did what we did."
Saint Mary's is back in action Wednesday when it travels to Provo, Utah to take on BYU. That game is set for an 8 p.m. tip, and will be televised on ESPNU. Live audio will also be available on SMCGaels.com. The Gaels play at Portland on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., then return home to host San Diego on Jan. 24 at 8 p.m.