MORAGA, Calif. -- With the Saint Mary's community focused on this week's upcoming final exams, the Gaels men's basketball team took a break from studying to ace its own test with a 93-65 win over Eastern Washington at McKeon Pavilion.
Sunday's win is Saint Mary's seventh in a row to begin the 2013-14 season, tying this year's team with the 2007-08 group as the only Randy Bennett-coached Gaels teams to start the year a perfect 7-0. The 1988-89 Gaels, coached by Lynn Nance, began their season with nine straight wins en route to a 25-5 season.
Center Brad Waldow led Saint Mary's in scoring for the fifth time this season, finishing with 24 points and eight rebounds to lead five Gaels in double figures. Kerry Carter scored a career-high 18, including a 3-for-6 night from beyond the arc. Stephen Holt had another solid all-around game with 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists and Beau Levesque also played well with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists of his own. James Walker III scored 12 to round out the high scorers.
"Offensively, we have so many weapons on the perimeter and the inside. Brad's been playing extremely well and (Matt Hodgson) has been coming along," Holt said. "We've proven we can take people off the dribble, knock down 3s and offensively we've shown we're a complete team. Where we need to get better is defensively. At times, we were able to strangle Eastern Washington. We wanted to build off the Murray State win because we played really well defensively. These past two games have been good tests for us, just trying to limit their 3-point ability and play overall good defense."
Both teams reflected the chilly Moraga evening early in Sunday's contest, with neither shooting particularly well to begin the game. Eventually though, it was Saint Mary's that opened a lead, as Waldow converted a layup off a nifty entry pass by Garrett Jackson to make it 9-3 Gaels.
Eastern Washington (5-3) stayed in the hunt for a bit, but the advantage soon shifted towards SMC. A 3-pointer by Carter with 11:32 left in the half brought the energy up, making it 17-7 and forcing an Eagles timeout.
Carter continued to play the role of big shot maker for most of the half, and most of the crowd noise came courtesy of the transfer guard from Southern California. He again ignited the crowd with a drive and layup, then on the next possession his 3-pointer made it 29-13 Gaels with 5:57 left in the half.
The lead got as large as 21 when Walker grabbed a rebound, went coast to coast and finished a 3-point play the hard way to make it 40-19 with 2:19 left in the half. Eastern Washington closed the half with two free throws by Tyler Harvey, but Saint Mary's was already firmly in control and the Gaels took a 41-26 lead to the locker room.
Both teams came out of the break searching for rhythm on the offensive end, and again it was Carter who provided a spark. His 3-pointer with 14:58 remaining represented the first points of the half scored by a Gael other than Waldow, putting Saint Mary's up 51-33.
Waldow and Carter provided all the second-half scoring for Saint Mary's until Holt finally joined the party with two free throws at the 11:19 mark that made it 59-44 SMC. With Sunday's performance, Carter has now scored in double digits in each of the past three games, and the West Covina, Calif. native continues to build confidence as he becomes more and more instrumental in the Gaels offensive success.
"We didn't know what he was going to be and he's one of our leading scorers most nights now," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "He's given us a third perimeter guy who can score and gives us a fifth good scorer. I think that's what you have to have to stay at the top of this league. You have to have five good scorers."
Saint Mary's now hits the road to take on Boise State on Dec. 14 in a non-bracketed game of the Diamond Head Classic. Tip-off for that game is set for 6 p.m. (PST). After that, the Gaels come home to take on American on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. before heading to Hawai'i to take part in the Diamond Head from Dec. 22-25. Tickets for the American game, as well as all other SMC home contests, can be purchased by clicking the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx.