MORAGA, Calif. -- A torrid first half of shooting put the Saint Mary's men's basketball team in control early and the Gaels only continued to shoot the lights out from there as they defeated visiting Murray State 89-64 in the 2013 Shamrock Office Solutions Classic at McKeon Pavilion.
With the win, Saint Mary's improves to 6-0 for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Murray State falls to 2-5.
Brad Waldow continued his fantastic start to the season, making eight of nine shots from the floor to finish with 18 points. James Walker III set a career high in points with 16, as well as tying his high mark in 3-pointers made with four. Stephen Holt added 16 points, seven assists and four rebounds and Kerry Carter chipped in with 10.
The key team statistic Saturday had much to do with how Saint Mary's took care of the ball and, conversely, how Murray State did not. The Gaels forced 17 Racers turnovers while committing only nine of their own, and that disparity led to a 33-7 advantage in points off turnovers.
"For a long time, we played at a pretty high level. I thought we played at a pretty high level, offensively especially," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "First half defensively, we were pretty good. Then second half, we got in the double bonus so early, it made it tough to defend. The area we've got to get better in is rebounding. We're up and down on that from game to game. Overall though, I was pleased."
Whatever revenge the Gaels had planned from their ESPN BracketBusters defeat two years ago showed up in the form of early offense on Saturday. Great early shooting from the perimeter, followed by a dominant display by Waldow down low helped Saint Mary's break away from their visitors from Kentucky.
Waldow and Walker were in the middle of the action from the very start. The duo capped a 10-3 Saint Mary's run to begin the game when Walker knocked down a 3, then grabbed a steal and found Waldow with the outlet pass for a fastbreak dunk.
The Gaels really broke away with a 14-2 run near the end of the half. Waldow got the streak started, scoring six straight on a tip-in and two layups to increase SMC's advantage to 20 at 41-21. Carter followed with a 3, Walker hit two free throws, Matt Hodgson added two free throws, and after Jarvis Williams got Murray State on the board with his own pair from the line, Holt added two more freebies to make it 49-23 with 1:29 left.
Saint Mary's went to the locker room up 49-27, with the lofty point total eclipsing the team's previous first half high of 42 set one game earlier against Alcorn State. Waldow led all scorers with 14, and Walker wasn't far behind with 13. The Gaels shot a scalding 51.6 percent from the floor, 40 percent from beyond the arc and went 11 for 12 from the line in the first half to gain separation on the scoreboard.
The strong shooting display Saint Mary's displayed in the first half only continued into the second, as the Gaels built the lead north of 30 by the 11 minute mark. The Gaels even showed a little flash to go with their substance, as Waldow wrapped a behind the back pass around a Racers defender, finding Garrett Jackson for a layup and setting off more than a few oohs and ahs from the Saint Mary's faithful.
Saint Mary's will try to make it seven straight wins to begin the season for the first time since the Patrick Mills, Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan-led 2007-08 Gaels, when it returns to McKeon on Sunday, Dec. 8 to take on Eastern Washington at 5:30 p.m.
"This is a different stretch. We played four games quick, then we're playing one game a week for four weeks and that can be tough," Bennett said. "It's hard to keep a team's concentration but we have to do it because it's a key time for us to improve. I thought we improved. I think we've improved in these two weeks. We play Eastern Washington, then we play at Boise (State) in the next two weeks and after that, it gets pretty busy."
Tickets for the Eastern Washington game, as well as all SMC home contests, are available by clicking the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx.