BOISE, Idaho – Last weekend, Randy Bennett joked that he wished his team could play every game within the friendly confines of McKeon Pavilion.
If the Gaels are able to continue to shoot the ball on the road as well as they did tonight at Taco Bell Arena, he might just change his mind.
Saint Mary's kept its undefeated record intact with a tough-minded 82-74 victory in front of a boisterous Bronco crowd highly-regarded Boise State tonight.
Stephen Holt scored a career-high 24 points, including a storybook start to the game and four clutch free throws late, to lead all scorers. James Walker III added 14 points, Beau Levesque chipped-in 13, Kerry Carter scored 12 and Brad Waldow added a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the Gaels.
“We needed to come out with confidence and step up in a big game, especially with it being on the road," said Holt. "Being a senior, I can provide confidence to my teammates when I’m able to hit shots early in the game. When we show up to play, we just feed off each other and it breeds confidence. This win was the result of a total team effort."
With the win, Saint Mary’s improves to a perfect 8-0 on the season, while Boise State lost its second-consecutive game to fall to 8-2.
The Gaels return to action Thursday, Dec. 19 when they host American University in a 7 p.m. contest in McKeon Pavilion. Tickets are available online through SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx (4689). Special group and WCC packages are also available.
Boise State has a week off for final exams before departing for Hawai’i, where it could face the Gaels in the second round of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. The Gaels face South Carolina in the first round on Sunday, while the Broncos play host Hawai’i.
Saint Mary's shot 48 percent for the game and season-best 52 from behind the 3-point arc, while outrebounding the Broncos 35-27.
Both teams shot lights-out from the floor during the first 20 minutes with the Gaels bolting out to an early lead, largely due to Holt’s 11 points in the first 5:32 of the game.
The Portland, Ore. native equaled his season-high with 18 first half points. He connected on each of his first four 3-point attempts before ending the half with a 7-for-14 shooting performance and a 4-of-6 effort from long range.
Saint Mary’s led by as many as 16 points in the first half before Boise State went on a 24-10 run to close out the half and pull within two points at 46-44 after 20 minutes of play.
Coming out of halftime, Boise took its first lead since early in the game after a close-range jumper by Ryan Watkins and a layup by Igor Hadziomerovic. After a Watkins dunk put BSU up 50-48, the Gaels went on a 10-0 run keyed by a 3-pointer, steal and dunk by Carter and a trey by Levesque.
A basket by Boise State’s Mikey Thomspon ended the run, but Waldow and Levesque layups extended SMC’s run to 14-2 and the Gaels’ biggest lead of the half at 62-52.
Drmic made one of two free throws to pull the Broncos back to within one point at 70-69 with 1:46 left in the game. Just 24 seconds later, Levesque connected on a wide-open 3-pointer and Carter made two free throws to push SMC back to a 6-point advantage.
“Even though we let them back in, I felt like we were tight, tough and gritty," said Holt. "We made some big steals and rebounds down the stretch. They hit some tough threes, which is expected when going on the road. But, I felt like we kept our composure down the stretch – especially in the last five minutes.
“When Drmic cut it to a 1-point game, we hit a big bucket, played solid defense and hit our free throws. We all stepped up and earned a big win.”
With :30 seconds left, Elorriaga connected on a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 7-44, but the Gaels made five of six free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.
“We played at a high level tonight, especially during the first 12 or 13 minutes of the game," said Bennett. "I thought they did too. We had to play at a high level to get a win. They are a load to guard. We got up 16 and before you know it we were up two at half. They are good. For us, Holt played at a really high level. A lot of guys did. We played about as well as we’ve played this season.
“You have to be tough to win on the road. We are getting there. This was the first step in that direction. It was a tough one to start out with. Our guys responded. I though the way Holt started really gave us a lift. Carter hit a three, then got a steal for a layup. Those were big plays.“Elorriaga really played well against us. Drmic and Marks are obviously their main guys. They are a load so, you have to key on them. But, Elorriaga was good tonight. He hit a bunch of threes. His last one cut it to three, so he also hit some big ones."