LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Based on the way he's been playing lately, it came as no surprise Thursday that Saint Mary's center Brad Waldow bore the brunt of Loyola Marymount's defensive attention.
That strategy served as the perfect opportunity to remind the rest of the West Coast Conference that when they're clicking, the Gaels are much more than a one-man band.
Kerry Carter scored a game-high 20 points, Beau Levesque added 17 and a career-high 14 rebounds and Stephen Holt scored 17 as Saint Mary's won its eighth straight at Gersten Pavilion with a 77-58 victory over the Lions. The win is the Gaels' 11th in their last 12 meetings with Loyola Marymount, and finishes Saint Mary's seventh regular season season sweep of the Lions in the last eight years.
"We played a little better tonight, I thought, for the entire game except for the last four or five minutes of the first half. I thought we let up there," Saint Mary's head coach Randy Bennett said. "Beau was back to his normal Beau tonight. That was good to have. I thought Kerry bounced back. Those two were key. I thought (Jordan) Giusti really helped us. We had a couple guys struggling a little. Kerry and Beau both struggled last week and they both played well."
The win also snaps a brief two-game skid for the Gaels, who improve to 17-7 overall and 7-4 in WCC play. Saint Mary's hasn't lost three straight WCC games since 2007.
Just as it did in the teams' first meeting this season, Saint Mary's jumped out to a massive early lead and looked ready to run away with the game. The Gaels launched a 16-2 run right off the bat, with Carter and Levesque combining for 13 of the 16 points.
Carter was just getting tuned up from the outside. The native of Covina, Calif. made his return to the L.A. area a fruitful one right away by hitting four of his first five 3-pointers, the last of which pushed Saint Mary's lead to 28-10 with 9:01 left in the half. Carter, Holt and Levesque did the scoring for Saint Mary's in the first period, combining for 36 of the Gaels' 37 points.
For as well as Saint Mary's played early, Loyola Marymount (11-13, 3-9) played just as well heading into the locker room. A tough, contested jumper by Ireland as time expired capped a 13-2 run to end the half and cut the Gaels' lead to six at 37-31 heading to the break.
Ireland also made a bit of history in the first half, passing legendary Lion Bo Kimble for fourth all-time on the school's all-time scoring list. The native of Waterbury, Conn. finished with 13 points and freshman Evan Payne scored 17 to lead Loyola Marymount.
"He's a great player. He's a class act. I think he's handled himself in all situations for four years. I can't ever remember him not handling himself the right way," Bennett said of Ireland. "Our whole game plan is around stopping him. He's a huge load on the scout, an exceptional player and one of the best players in the league. We did a pretty good job on him again but that's basically because we have three guys covering him."
The Gaels turned that momentum back in their favor in the second half thanks to a 13-4 run that saw five different Saint Mary's players contribute on the scoresheet. Levesque capped the run with a layup, making it 52-39 with 13:15 remaining. That lead grew to 20 on a 3 by Giusti with 4:32 left and the Gaels salted the game away from there.
"We're getting better defensively. We're not where we need to be but we're getting better there. We're trying. I thought second half, we were pretty good defensively and for a lot of the first half we were," Bennett said. "The negative takeaway is we need to take care of the ball. That was our highest turnover (total) for the year, so we need to take care of that."
With 17 points Thursday, Holt moved up another spot on the Saint Mary's all-time scoring list. He tied Bill Sanchez for 17th, finishing the game with 1,170 points in his career. With his 84th career start Thursday, Holt also tied Frank Allocco for 10th all-time on that list.
Saint Mary's returns to action Saturday when it takes on Pepperdine in Malibu at 1 p.m. The Gaels come back to Moraga next week to host San Diego at 8 p.m. on Thursday and BYU at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets to Thursday's game are available by clicking the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx. Saturday's game against BYU is sold out, but a limited number of tickets may become available as the game gets closer.