Instead, it was the Gaels who proved the aggressors early, jumping out to as much as a 16-point lead in the first half, extending it to 18 in the second and eventually outlasting a tough charge by the Bulldogs to win by a final of 67-63 at McKeon Pavilion.
Beau Levesque was high-point man for Saint Mary's (4-0) with 16. Brad Waldow picked up his second-straight double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds. He also set a career high with five blocks. James Walker III scored 13 and Stephen Holt added 10 for the Gaels. Richard Carter led Drake (2-1) with 18.
"We haven't learned to finish people off. We didn't tonight. Some of that is Drake did a great job of hanging in there, playing right, changing defenses and things like that," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Part of it is we don't have that mentality yet. We don't play every possession right. We're immature still, and we've got to get through that. That's why I'm not as excited as I would think I would be."
After trailing by double digits for much of the game, Drake eventually made its move in the second half. Two free throws by Gary Ricks, Jr. cut the SMC lead to five at 49-44 with 8:50 left. The Bulldogs got even closer after a transition layup by Ricks cut the gap to just 53-51 with 6:43 left. Two free throws by Carter made it 56-55 Gaels with 4:33 left.
The pendulum never quite swung all the way to the Bulldogs side though, as Saint Mary's had the answer. A 3-pointer by Holt restored the lead to four at 59-55, and a block by Waldow on the defensive end got the crowd fully back into it. A layup by Levesque pushed the lead back to six and forced another Drake time out.
Drake fought to stay close, and a 3-pointer by Carter with 30 seconds left pulled the Bulldogs to within three at 63-60. Two huge free throws by Levesque with 17.3 seconds left made it 65-60 Saint Mary's and put the game out of reach for Drake.
Saturday's contest started with shooting about as cold as the temperature outside as the two teams began the game a combined 1-for-14 from the floor. Soon though, the lids would come off the basket, with Saint Mary's taking advantage first. A 3-pointer by Holt made it 8-2 Gaels just under six minutes in.
Saint Mary's lead would get as high as 16 at one point in the first half, with separation coming thanks to a 10-0 run midway through the period. That run would end and another began, as the Gaels pushed the advantage to 31-15 when Levesque found Kerry Carter for an alley-oop layup in transition with 4:49 left in the half.
Drake fought back to narrow the gap just before halftime, finishing the half on an 8-2 run of its own. Blake Danielak's 3-pointer with 30 seconds left was the final basket of the period, leaving the score at 33-23 Saint Mary's heading into the locker room.
Whatever momentum the Bulldogs might've stolen shifted back to the other bench within the first three minutes of the second half.
An 8-0 run helped the Gaels re-establish control, with all the scoring coming courtesy of Waldow and Walker. A 3-pointer by Walker extended the lead to 16, and when Waldow converted a layup with 16:59 to play, the score ballooned to 41-23 Saint Mary's and forced Drake coach and former Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti to call time out.
But, whatever Giacoletti said in that huddle seemed to work, as seven straight by the Bulldogs narrowed the gap to nine.
"I think having coached against us about nine times in the last three years, he had a pretty good grasp on how we were going to play, who our personnel is and what they can and can't do," Bennett said.
Enter Saint Mary's freshman Dane Pineau. The native of Melbourne, Australia nailed a 3 from the top of the key, re-igniting the crowd and bringing the lead back to double digits.
Saint Mary's gets a few well-earned days of practice before getting back to game action. The Gaels next welcome fans to McKeon Pavilion on Nov. 24 when Alcorn State visits for a 5:30 tip. Tickets to that game, as well as every other SMC contest this season, are available by clicking the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx.
A limited number of single game tickets are available for most of the games during the 2013-14 men’s basketball season. Fans can reserve their seat(s) by visiting the SMC Athletic Ticket Office, calling (925) 631-GoTx (4689) or logging on to SMCGaels.com.