MORAGA, Calif. — It was a Sunday night smackdown at McKeon Pavilion, where No. 12 Saint Mary’s (7-1) avenged their recent rare home loss with a dominant performance against the UC Irvine Anteaters, 84-53.
The Bay Area is home to two of the greatest three point shooters in the NBA -- I wonder if they remember the first one they made in college?
Sophomore center Jordan Hunter won't forget his, and neither will everyone in attendance on Sunday night.
Hunter intercepted the Anteaters last attempt at cutting the lead to single digits before the end of the first half. And then he proceeded to bring all of McKeon Pavilion to their feet by launching a two handed prayer from the half court logo with no time left on the clock -- a shot he claims “was second nature.”
One he practices all the time, but with the absence of referees.
“Well, you know, you got to make the most of your minutes, and I had a second there,” Hunter said jokingly. “If I play a minute there in that first half it’s a 180-points. You know, you do what you can. I mean, I made one shot and it was a threat to them tonight.”
“It kind of was. I was kind of serious. It changed that game. I mean we hit the two free throws and go up 10,” said head coach Randy Bennett. “You go in (halftime) up 13 -- it’s a difference, it really is. As a coach, it feels like a little momentum, feels like you have a little gap. I couldn’t keep a straight face. It was a funny play, but it really did help us. And then we came out in the second half and you could kind of feel the momentum.”
The Gaels will play their next game at home against Western Kentucky on Tuesday, Dec. 14th at 7 p.m. For tickets, visit the tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office during weekday business hours at (925) 631-GoTx (4689). Viewers can also catch the action live through Gael Vision and on the TuneIn app.
SMC left the locker room with the same fire that escorted them in. Evan Fitzner, who scored a season-high 12-points, opened up the second half with a three pointer that put his team ahead by 16 (41-25). The scoring margin never dipped any lower for the rest of the night and reached as high 31.
“It felt good. We brought an energy defensively [and] our guards did a good job of getting us open looks tonight,” said Fitzner on the bounce back win. “We struggled the other night, so it’s always good to get one back.
Senior guard Joe Rahon put up the first points of the night -- a running floater off a Jock Landale screen -- fueling a 12-3 run that consisted of six quick points from Landale, including back-to-back three-pointers from Landale and guard Emmett Naar.
The grasp on the lead was secured in their advantage for the rest of the night.
The Gaels shot 10-for-17 from three point land and 27-for-48 from the field. They also got to the line ten times (nine in the first half) where they went 20-for-25, and trimmed their turnovers down from 16 on Thursday to 11 on Sunday. Through eight games, the Gaels have finished shooting over 50 percent six times.
“We played better offensively than I’ve seen in awhile,” said Bennett. “A lot of guys contributed, honestly. You got the normal guys -- Rahon and Landale. Fitzner had a good game. We had a lot of guys that I thought had their best game.”
Rahon added eight points and five assists in 35 minutes, but it was on the other end of the ball where he shined. Anteaters senior guard Jaron Martin headed into the game as his team's leading scorer. Rahon kept him scoreless in the first half and only allowed him to earn four points by the end of regulation.
Supreme ball movement expanded the Gaels court presence and welcomed a familiar tenacity -- one that led them to six straight wins to open the season -- and when a turnover at the 18-minute mark of the second half led to a monster slam from Landale in transition, he let out a full-flexed roar that was otherwise dormant during his worst shooting night in the Gaels loss to UTA.
“Yeah. I wasn’t that concerned. I knew we had a stinker the other night,” said Bennett on the Gaels first loss of the season. “That was good for us to see. That’s how you get confidence -- here’s a little adversity, see how you bounce back.”
The Gaels faced off against the Anteaters for the 11th time in program history and now hold the 6-5 advantage. Where the Anteaters once owned a five game winning streak, they’re now on the wrong end of a three game streak. Freshman guard Eyassu Worku led the way for the Anteaters with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting in 30 minutes.
Jock Landale leads the conference and team in rebounds and field goal percentage. He added 15 points on 4-for-9 from the field, along with seven rebounds.
The Gaels bench showed up and contributed 30 points. Jordan Ford led the way in his 15 minutes of play with 12 points, a perfect 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and zero turnovers. Dane Pineau added seven of his own and grabbed five boards.
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