Brad Waldow led Saint Mary's (12-5, 2-2 West Coast Conference) with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Beau Levesque and James Walker III each scored 12 for the Gaels. Jared Brownridge led Santa Clara (10-8, 3-2) with 23 points. The loss snaps Saint Mary's 25-game home winning streak against unranked opponents and also snaps the Gaels' nine-game win streak against Santa Clara.
"The story of the second half was we reverted back in the areas we need to be consistent in and that's defensively," said acting Saint Mary's coach Eran Ganot. "Rebounding was pretty good for the game but we obviously got our tail kicked in by their two guards. They have a pretty good three-guard lineup and we did a good job on (Evan) Roquemore but part of it was he was in foul trouble. Catches were too easy and we let them get into their comfort zone too much."
Stephen Holt put Saint Mary's in the lead late, hitting a big 3 to put Saint Mary's ahead by one. He worked the ball right off a screen from Waldow, drove the lane and kicked out to Walker in the corner. When Santa Clara closed down on Walker, he drove into the middle of the lane, drew Holt's defender, kicked it out and the senior from Portland, Ore. buried the open 3 to put Saint Mary's ahead 55-54 with 23 seconds left.
Saint Mary's had a foul to give, and Waldow gave it with 5.7 seconds left. After time outs by both teams, Brownridge created his own shot at the top of the key and buried a 3 to put Santa Clara ahead. SMC's full court pass was intercepted and Santa Clara got the win.
Trailing by five with just under two minutes left, Levesque got a partisan Saint Mary's crowd back to its feet at a good time. His drive and layup, coupled with a foul and free throw, put Saint Mary's down 54-52 with 1:31 to play.
The Gaels got the stop they needed on the next Santa Clara possession, as Brownridge's pull-up jumper bounced off a Bronco and out of bounds to Saint Mary's. That gave the Gaels a shot, which Holt converted.
A tense final few minutes began with a sight familiar to Gaels fans throughout the game. Trailing by one, the tried and true game plan of getting Waldow alone on the low block worked again, as the big man backed his defender down and lifted a shot over his left shoulder and in, giving Saint Mary's the 48-47 lead with 3:47 left.
A layup by Brownridge on Santa Clara's next possession put the Broncos back in front by a point, but Walker tied it again by hitting one of two free throws. Brownridge's long 2, followed by a 3 that hit back iron and bounced in, gave Santa Clara the 54-49 lead with 1:44 left.
Saint Mary's took a 29-20 lead into halftime, but Santa Clara got the final word of the half on a dunk by Jerry Brown just before the buzzer.
Though the Broncos scored the final points, the Gaels built their lead thanks in large part to a 9-0 run midway through the half. One key play came on a missed free throw by Waldow. The rebound went long, allowing Waldow to grab it himself. He passed to a wide-open Walker on the wing and the senior from Long Beach, Calif. converted, draining a 3 to make it 21-11.
Waldow was back at it on the next drive, this time doing the scoring himself. His tough up and under with a Bronco defender in his face put the Gaels up 23-11 and capped the run, leaving momentum in Saint Mary's corner with 7:31 left in the half.
"The ability to bounce back is going to be key," Ganot said. "We didn't in Hawai'i, we did after Gonzaga. I told them number one that I'm proud of their ability to come back in the game and take the lead. That can rock you a little bit. It's rocked us in the past, so I thought that was a step for us. Two, we've got a big game coming up on Saturday."
Saint Mary's continues its six-game homestand on Saturday when it hosts San Francisco at 3 p.m. in a game televised locally by Comcast SportsNet California. The game will also be televised by ROOT Sports Northwest and Rocky Mountain. And, viewers outside those regions can view the game live online via TheW.Tv. Live audio and live statistics for both games will be available on SMCGaels.com and the game will be broadcast live in the Moraga area on KSMC 89.5 FM. Tickets can be purchased by clicking the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx.