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Men's Basketball

Stephen Holt enjoyed a strong game in the first conference contest of his senior season.
Stephen Holt enjoyed a strong game in the first conference contest of his senior season.
MBK | Gaels Get Back On Track, Open WCC With Win At Pacific
Release: Saturday 12/30/2013 
by SMC Athletics
STOCKTON, Calif. -- The Saint Mary's men's basketball team isn't interested in making grand statements having not even reached the midway point of the 2013-14 season.

Instead, the Gaels remain content to do their talking on the court, and by beating Pacific 88-80 Monday in both teams' West Coast Conference opener, Saint Mary's made one important point without even saying a word.

Gaels basketball is still a force to be reckoned with.

Beau Levesque led five Saint Mary's players in double figures with 18 points and also grabbed eight rebounds to help the Gaels snap a three-game losing streak. Stephen Holt, Kerry Carter and James Walker III each scored 15 points and Brad Waldow added 14 for the Gaels (10-3). Walker also matched a career high with five steals. Andrew Bock led Pacific (9-3) with 23 points.

"We went back to the basics and watched ourselves," said Saint Mary's coach Eran Ganot, who acted as head coach with Randy Bennett away from the team. "We have a big game against Pacific and before we did anything there, we had to address some areas of concern from that Hawai'i trip and they were clear. I don't know if we made significant improvement there, again defense was the issue, but I think the separation in this game came early in the second half and it was because of our defense."

Saint Mary's had to withstand a late Pacific charge to walk out of Spanos Center with a win. With the Gaels trying not to foul, Tigers guard Sama Taku found plenty of room in the lane, and his layup with 1:03 remaining made it 82-76 Saint Mary's.

Carter did his part after drawing a foul, sinking two free throws to put the Gaels back up eight. Bock countered with a quick jumper on the other end, and after the referees looked at two different replay screens, the shot was ruled a 2 and SMC led by six.

Saint Mary's certainly wasn't perfect from the line coming down the stretch, but the Gaels did just enough to ice the game, as the Tigers couldn't complete the comeback and the visitors returned to Moraga with a victory.

Holding just a six-point lead at halftime, Saint Mary's had to scrap to stay in front as Pacific scored the first five points of the second half to get its crowd involved right away.

That brief spurt ended up lighting a fire under the Gaels, who took control for the next few minutes with a 12-2 run. Waldow led the charge, scoring six points in the stretch, and Levesque and Carter added long range firepower by each hitting a 3. Levesque's put Saint Mary's up 57-46 with 12:56 to play and put momentum squarely in the Gaels' corner.

The two teams traded figurative punches and counterpunches over the next several minutes with neither team putting together the kind of extended run that allowed the Gaels to break away. Every time Pacific tried to get back within reach, Saint Mary's had the answer and with five minutes to play, Saint Mary's still held an eight-point lead.

That lead grew larger for the Gaels when a 3-pointer by Carter, followed by a layup by Waldow made it 76-63 Saint Mary's with 3:11 to play. After a 3 by Pacific's Trevin Harris brought that lead back to 10, Levesque again had the answer. His 3-pointer put the Gaels back up 13, giving Saint Mary's its largest lead of the game.

Saint Mary's led throughout the early stages of the game, but a transition runner by Bock completed Pacific's first half comeback, and evened the game at 22-all.

The Gaels got the final word heading into the break, as Holt set up a play at the top of the key and found Walker open on the wing for a shot to end the half with a 3. Walker found nothing but net, and the Gaels went to the locker room up 45-39.

Monday's game was Saint Mary's first of five without Bennett on the bench, with the Gaels head man sitting out the first four conference games and the William Jessup game as part of NCAA sanctions announced in March. Ganot served as acting head coach, and little changed from Saint Mary's usual plan of attack.

"I think on the surface, perception is it's pretty hectic but our guys and our staff have been pretty much dialed in and really focused," Ganot said. "It's human nature to think the other way a little bit when something like this goes on but our program in general has been really good at focusing on the task at hand and not thinking about other things."

The start of WCC play carried a bit of extra meaning for Pacific as the game against the Gaels represented the Tigers' first men's basketball game since returning to the conference this summer. A founding member of the WCC in 1952, Pacific left the conference in 1971, making its return Monday with WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich in attendance.

Monday's game is just the start of a three-game road stretch to begin conference play for Saint Mary's. The Gaels next head north for Thursday's 6 p.m. game at Gonzaga. That contest will be televised live by ESPN2. The road trip concludes Saturday at 7 p.m. when Saint Mary's visits Portland for a 7 p.m. tip. Live video of that game will be available on TheW.TV and live audio and statistics of both games can be found as always on SMCGaels.com.