MORAGA, Calif. -- It may not have been the Rumble In Moraga, but the Saint Mary's men's basketball team showed Saturday against Pacific that, when called into question, it certainly knows how to respond.
A disjointed affair turned in Saint Mary's favor in the second half as some rough and tumble play woke the McKeon Pavilion faithful and sparked the Gaels to a 79-73 victory in front of an impassioned crowd in Moraga.
Stephen Holt led the way for Saint Mary's (14-5, 4-2 West Coast Conference), going 16 for 19 from the free throw line en route to a career high 26 points. Kerry Carter set a career high of his own with 21 and Brad Waldow added 22. Tony Gill led Pacific (10-7, 1-5) with 16.
"We survived. I thought Pacific played well and did a good job. They played hard," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "We had to match that in the second half. Our first half, I thought they played a little harder, a little more aggressive. Credit them. Hopefully we won't have to have that halftime talk too often."
What started as a humdrum contest with little rhythm or flow flipped in the second half. With 10:49 left in the contest, any lethargy caused by a bevy of fouls by both teams went out the window when a flagrant foul by Pacific's Trevin Harris awoke the giant that is the Saint Mary's crowd.
Waldow split a pair of free throws after the foul, but by time he finished, the crowd had worked into a full boil. The Gaels carried that energy forward, as the made foul shot started a 15-3 run that put Saint Mary's squarely in control. Five points came from the free throw line, and back to back 3-pointers by Carter and Jordan Giusti capped the stretch, brought the decibel level to perhaps its loudest all year and left Saint Mary's ahead 67-54 with 6:59 remaining.
The Tigers would reduce the lead to as little as four but the Saint Mary's crowd kept supplying the energy and the Gaels responded in kind to hold on for victory, finishing things from the free throw line. The final stat sheet told the real tale from a team perspective, as the Gaels and Tigers combined for 60 fouls, 29 turnovers and 71 free throws attempted.
"That's why we struggled in the first half. We weren't being the aggressor," Holt said. "We love to get up and down and have a lot of possessions and in the second half, we finally did that. We got some great shots and eventually got some stops, which led to transition buckets, kick-out 3s and doing what we do. It comes down to taking care of the ball and being the aggressor and we made that adjustment in the second half."
Saint Mary's carried a 38-31 deficit into the locker room thanks to a sloppy first half that featured more fouls and turnovers than highlight plays.
The Gaels did rally to get the crowd on its feet, and Carter capped a 7-2 run with a 3-pointer from the wing to cut the deficit to 25-24. That momentum fizzled in a haze of fouls though, as Pacific went on a 9-0 run to push the lead back to 34-24 with 1:57 left.
Carter gave the home fans reason to cheer at the end of the half, beating the buzzer with a deep 3 to cut the Tigers' lead to seven. The stat sheet at intermission told the story though, with the teams combining for 27 fouls and 17 turnovers in only 20 minutes of play.
Saint Mary's wraps up its six-game homestand next week when it hosts Pepperdine at 7 p.m. on Thursday and welcomes Loyola Marymount for a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Thursday's game against the Waves will be broadcast live on TheW.TV while Saturday's matchup with the Lions will be televised live by Comcast SportsNet California. Live audio and statistics for both games will be available through SMCGaels.com, and tickets can be purchased by clicking the Tickets link or calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx.