MORAGA, Calif. — There was never a moment of worry for the fans at McKeon Pavilion on Thursday night when No. 19 Saint Mary’s hosted the Bulldogs of South Carolina State. It was the final nonconference game for the Gaels, and they owned the matchup for its entirety, finishing on top 74-47.
Jock Landale continues to contribute big numbers, recording his third straight double-double (4 on the season), with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Evan Fitzner scored nine points, Joe Rahon tallied eight, and Calvin Hermanson added 10 with six rebounds.
The Bulldogs leading scorer Eric Eaves (15.1 ppg) was kept quiet in the first half, where he managed just two points, by persistent defense from Hermanson. Eaves finished his night with 11 on 5-of-9 shooting.
The spectacular ball movement narrative continues to flourish for the West Coast Conference assists-per-game leader (18.4 heading into Thursday). They recorded 20 dimes on 28 successful field goals.
The Gaels (10-1) never trailed, and were up by as many as 30. Despite a disjointed first half with high turnover-, their defense, who held the Bulldogs (3-9) to a first half season low (15), continues to improve and demonstrate authority in the paint. They outrebounded the Bulldogs 42-16.
“I think what was at fault in the first half was we just weren’t playing hard enough. We weren’t playing well as a team,” said big man Landale. “Coach wanted us to play harder and more as a unit. We did that in the second half and it worked well for us.”
Supreme dominance was in full effect for the home team in the second half. The Bulldogs tallied just five points through the first five minutes, and after recording their fifth point, the Gaels responded with 15 unanswered, including large contributions from the bench.
This degree of bench player exposure is fruitful for head coach Randy Bennett’s squad as he will surely need the depth during conference play.
“It is always helpful to gain experience, so if you can get everyone minutes to gain experience, it will certainly help us in the long run,” said Landale on the minutes from the bench.
“I told Tanner that if he defends well, he stays on the court,” said head coach Randy Bennett. “The intensity, the rebounds -- Tanner is a really good shooter. His numbers right now do not reflect what kind of shooter he is. Give him enough minutes and he can really help us.”
The Gaels took control early by going on a 12-2 run that began within the first five minutes of regulation – sparked by Hermanson dicing through the lane to collect two points.
During a fast break eight minutes into the first half, Rahon displayed his tremendous court awareness by driving hard to the basket before dishing it out to a wide-open Hermanson, who buried one from downtown, putting the Gaels up 21-7.
With 11-minutes left in the first half, the Bulldogs were able to put up 10 unanswered points, but their fire was extinguished when senior center Dane Pineau found a cutting Evan Fitzner, who finished with some finesse glass work – igniting a 10-2 run of their own, where Fitzner owned six.
Conference play is on deck. Though the Gaels own a solid record through their first 10 games, there’s an echo pertaining the necessity of defensive improvement.
“I think we’ve been ready to get to conference,” said Landale. “We came tonight ready to finish off the non conference schedule really well, and we did that tonight. We are all excited to get to conference.”
The Gaels will play their next game on the road against Loyola Marymount on Thursday, Dec. 29th at 8 p.m. The conference opener versus the Lions will be aired on ESPNU and on WatchESPN. Viewers can also catch the action live through Gael Vision and on the TuneIn app.
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