MALIBU, Calif. – The key attribute of the Saint Mary's men's basketball program's success over the last decade has been toughness. Today, in a crucial West Coast Conference game at Pepperdine the Gaels demonstrated its resolve in a 69-67 victory over the Waves.
Senior guard Stephen Holt scored a career-high 29 points to give Saint Mary's its 15th-straight win over Pepperdine and helped propel the Gaels to an 18-7 overall record and an 8-4 mark in league games. Pepperdine fell to 14-11, 7-6.
Holt played all 45 minutes in the game and went 8-for-17 from the field and 10-of-12 from the free throw line. He now has 1,999 career points and is 17th on the school's career scoring chart.
Classmate Beau Levesque earned his second-straight and third career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds to go with three steals and three assists. Junior guard Kerry Carter added 11 points as the only other SMC player in double-figures. Pepperdine senior Brendan Lane led the Waves with 19 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.
"We weren't able to get stops when we needed to down the stretch to keep it from getting tight but I'm just excited to get out of here with a win and get a sweep on the road," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "A lot of guys had to step up. (Matt Hodgson) made a big play at the end. Holt and Beau played really well. I thought Paul (McCoy) gave us some key minutes. We beat a good team on the road."
Neither team was able to pull away during the game. The biggest SMC lead was seven points, while the Waves owned a game-high 6-point advantage at the half.
The two teams each started the game slowly, combining to shoot 2-for-13 from the field over the first six minutes of play. A quick two-minute burst saw each time find more success from the field, making six of nine field goals but Pepperdine moved out to a 12-9 lead on a Jeremy Major 3-pointer midway through the half.
Down 14-10, the Gaels went on a 6-0 run capped a pair of baskets by Holt. The Portland, Ore. native tied the game with a rebound and putback, then drove in for a layup to five SMC a 16-14 lead with 8:24 remaining.
Pepperdine pulled away toward the end of the half. With the score tied at 16-apiece, Davis hit a jumper then pulled up for a 3-pointer at the top of the arc to put the Waves up by five points. Levesque ended the run with a 3-pointer with 3:27 remaining. That would be the Gaels final basket of the half as the first 20 minutes ended with Pepperdine owning a 28-22 lead.
Saint Mary's rallied in the second half, getting back into the game and building as much as a seven-point lead when Waldow converted a layup with 4:51 remaining. That was as large a lead as either team would get for the remainder of the contest, and a dunk by Lane with 19 seconds left in regulation knotted the score at 59.
The Gaels got a good look on their final possession of regulation, with Holt driving the left side of the lane and separating enough for a good fallaway look at the hoop. His shot glanced off the rim and fell into Lane's hands though, setting up the extra period.
In overtime, Saint Mary's had to do the bulk of its work from the free throw line. Six of the Gaels' 10 points came from the stripe, with none bigger than a pair by Holt with 1:21 remaining to give SMC the 68-67 lead.
From there, it was time for the defense to go to work and to that end, Bennett enlisted Hodgson. The senior from Australia came in with the task of guarding Lane, who would surely get the ball down low on the Waves' final possession.
That's exactly how it shook out, with Lane backing into the lane and trying to score over his right shoulder. Hodgson stayed with Lane's pump fake, rejected the shot and forced a mad scramble near the rim. Putbacks by Lane and Stacy Davis missed, and Levesque pulled down the biggest rebound of the night to give the possession back to SMC. Carter split free throws at the other end, and Lane's last-ditch 3-pointer was no good, sealing the Gaels' win.
"It was such a big win for us," Holt said. "Any road win is a huge win and the way we pulled it out showed our true character and toughness. We needed to make those plays and we were able to."
Saint Mary’s returns home for a pair of home games this week – Thursday against San Diego and Saturday versus BYU. Tickets are available for Thursday’s game by visiting the tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx (4689).
The Saint Mary’s basketball program will retire the number of former Gaels guard Matthew Dellavedova prior to Saturday’s game against the Cougars. The game is technically sold out, but a limited number of standing room/general admission tickets could become available later in the week or at the gate on game day.