MORAGA, Calif. -- The Saint Mary's men's basketball team got the test it expected from a game Pepperdine squad but the Gaels had the answers they needed down the stretch to pull out an 80-74 victory in a key West Coast Conference showdown at McKeon Pavilion.
Four players finished in double figures for Saint Mary's (15-5, 5-2 WCC), led by Brad Waldow with 21. Stephen Holt added 20 and Kerry Carter had 18 as the Gaels beat the Waves for the 14th straight meeting. Brendan Lane led Pepperdine (12-9, 5-4) with 18.
"It was always tight. We had chances to separate and we don't sustain an effort defensively to ever hold leads," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "We've got to get better. Until we do, they're going to be down to the wire every game."
There wasn't much to separate the Gaels and Waves throughout the latter stages of Thursday's game, with the score remaining close right until the end. Two free throws by Levesque with 2:07 remaining pushed the lead to eight with Saint Mary's up 73-65.
Pepperdine would try long 3-pointers on the next two possessions but neither fell, and after rebounds each time by Saint Mary's, the Gaels would go on to ice the game from the line.
The decisive lead didn't come as part of a big run or flurry of offense from Saint Mary's. Instead, Thursday's blueprint comprised of a few timely defensive stops, good free throw shooting and a clutch 3-pointer tossed in for good measure. Carter's 3 with 4:20 left made it 69-63 Gaels, breaking a nearly eight-minute stretch in which Saint Mary's did not score from the field.
Nothing had been decided by the midway point of the second half, with both teams enjoying runs early in the period that swung momentum like a pendulum rather than leaving it in one particular team's corner. Two free throws by Pepperdine's Malcolm Brooks left it a one-point Saint Mary's lead at 59-58 with 9:08 remaining.
What both teams dealt with was foul trouble. By the 9:30 mark, both the Gaels and Waves found themselves in the bonus. Saint Mary's went long stretches without power forward Beau Levesque, while Pepperdine had to go without its own power forward, Stacy Davis.
Saint Mary's had the offense working early on Thursday, going 5 for its first 7 from beyond the arc to build a lead that climbed as high as 11 before the break.
Early in the game, it was Carter supplying the 3-point magic but as the half wore on, Holt became the catalyst. He scored eight in a row for the Gaels at one point, and his 3-pointer from the wing made it 21-13 Saint Mary's with 10:20 left in the half.
Pepperdine wouldn't go away that easily, and the Waves closed the gap by the end of the half. A layup by Lamond Murray, Jr. cut Saint Mary's lead to 38-35 with 56 seconds left and Jeremy Major had a chance to narrow the deficit further thanks to a 1 and 1 opportunity with 18 seconds left.
Major missed the front end, Levesque grabbed the rebound and Holt dunked home the final bucket of the half just before the buzzer sounded to give SMC the five-point halftime advantage. The Gaels trailed Pepperdine just once Thursday, with the Waves' lone lead coming at 3-2.
"Beau did a really nice job defensively for us. It was a good bounce back for him. We had some moments defensively," Bennett said. "We took care of the ball and did some good things offensively. We didn't shoot it real well but I thought we got good shots for the most part. If we're going to be able to separate when we don't shoot it well, we're going to have to defend better."
Saint Mary's wraps up its six-game homestand on Saturday at 3 p.m. when it hosts Loyola Marymount. The game will be televised live in the Bay Area on Comcast SportsNet California and in Southern California on Time Warner Cable Sportsnet. In all other areas, live streaming video will be available online via TheW.TV. Live audio and live statistics for both games will also be available through SMCGaels.com.