MORAGA, Calif. -- If the Saint Mary's men's basketball team needed to convince anyone of just how far it has come since the beginning of the season, consider Saturday's 74-66 victory over Creighton as exhibit A.
A physical, grinding contest saw the Gaels outrebound the visiting Bluejays 39-27 as Saint Mary's picked up the win in the marquee game of the ESPN Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters series.
Matthew Dellavedova led Saint Mary's (24-5) with 19 points. Brad Waldow collected his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Stephen Holt added 13 points and Mitchell Young chipped in with 11
Creighton (22-7) got 22 points from Doug McDermott and 18 from Gregory Echinique.
"Been a great week. That BYU game was a tough game," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Quick turnaround to play a team like Creighton. They played Tuesday, we played Thursday. We had some things working against us. Thank goodness we were playing at home."
A hungry group of Gaels used the paint to their advantage on Saturday. Any combination of Brad Waldow, Mitchell Young, Beau Levesque, Kyle Rowley and Matt Hodgson seemed to work, as Saint Mary's owned the glass and made life difficult for the Bluejays who ventured down low.
Offensively, the Gaels looked to their floor general to lead the way. Dellavedova made an array of shots throughout the game, with the biggest cheers from a packed gym reserved for the five 3-pointers he made.
Creighton cut into a 14-point halftime deficit thanks to the efforts down low of Echinique. The big man scored the first seven points of the second half for the Bluejays, at one point scoring 11 in a row for Creighton in a run that spanned both halves.
A 3-point play by McDermott cut Saint Mary's lead to single digits with 15:21 to play, but Dellavedova had the answer, knocking down a deep 3-pointer to put the Gaels back up 12.
Things would only get better -- and louder -- for the next few minutes. A steal by Jorden Page set up the fast break, with the junior from Australia finding Waldow in transition for a 3-point play. That put Saint Mary's up 50-34 with 13:54 left.
The lead hovered around that margin for the next several minutes, with Creighton getting a bit closer but not close enough to seriously threaten the lead.
The Gaels iced the game from the line, with plenty of opportunities in the game's waning moments to convert free shots.
Saint Mary's took a 38-24 lead to halftime, with an 8-0 run to end the first half providing plenty of momentum -- and noise -- in McKeon Pavilion.
That was the second lengthy run the Gaels put on in the first half, as a Beau Levesque layup capped an 8-2 run that left Saint Mary's up 26-17 with 5:36 left in the half.
The run to end the half created the most noise though, and a tip-in by Waldow with 37 seconds left put the Gaels up by 14.
Creighton had one more chance to score before the half ended, but good defense on the perimeter forced a 3-pointer by Austin Chatman that glanced off the rim harmlessly.
"For us, it was a refreshing game. I know as a coach, and I think as a player, there wasn't as much pressure," Bennett said. "Hey, we get to play in a great college basketball game today against a really good team. Let's see how we can do."
Saint Mary's returns to the court Wednesday when it heads to Pepperdine to take on the Waves. That game will tip off at 8 p.m. and be televised live on ESPNU. Live audio and statistics will be available on SMCGaels.com
The Gaels return to McKeon Pavilion to close out the regular season on March 2 when they host Santa Clara at 7 p.m. That will be Senior Night for Saint Mary's, and the last home game for Matthew Dellavedova, Paul McCoy, Kyle Rowley, Mitchell Young and Tim Williams. Tickets are available by clicking the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com, or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx.