MORAGA, Calif. — In a sloppy offensive performance, No. 20 Saint Mary’s (22-2, 12-1 WCC) relied on stellar defense to snatch the 51-41 win over the Pilots of Portland at McKeon Pavilion on Thursday night.
In their previous matchup, the Gaels controlled the game with ease, winning by a 41-point margin (74-31). Thursday’s major difference: no Alec Wintering, the Pilots leading scorer and a West Coast Conference force. Two days after they last faced off, Wintering went down with a season ending torn ACL.
“Part of it was we didn’t make shots and part of it was their defense,” said senior guard Joe Rahon. “They played well and we knew they would. You beat someone that bad at their place you know they’re going to come in with a chip on their shoulder.”
Despite the offensive shakiness, the Gaels earned their seventh consecutive win. And it was physical. The Pilots (9-16, 2-11 WCC) looked intent on disengaging the Gaels most dominant weapon—junior center Jock Landale.
“They can give you problems defensively, said head coach Randy Bennett. “They got Hartwich in there and since they have had to revamp their team with the injuries, I think they have gotten a bit better.”
Overall, the action was stagnant until a Joe Rahon steal with 13:36 remaining led to a fast break that was mishandled out of bounds by senior center Dane Pineau. On the very next play, Pineau took it right back and drew the foul, converting on 1-of-2. The sequence helped ignite an 11-2 run that gave the Gaels their largest lead of the night, 39-31.
And they were rolling after that. A 7:43 three-pointer from Hermanson was followed up with a monster block from Landale, clearing the way for an Emmett Naar layup in transition, extending the lead to nine (44-35).
The Gaels backcourt were two of the three players to reach double digits—the other was Landale. Junior Naar added 11 points and Rahon chipped in 10.
And when it came time to reach his 11th double-double, Landale did it in authoritative fashion with a powerful two-hand-jam. He whirled his arms as he trotted back up the court and the fans responded with admiration. He finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
But it wasn’t pretty early. Saint Mary’s dished out a dreary 1-for-11 from the field during the opening minutes, and through the first 10 minutes of play the teams combined went 6-for-28 shooting.
And while the Gaels turned in their worst first half shooting percentage this season, they did protect the glass offensively. Their seven offensive rebounds contributed to nine second chance points. Back-to-back layups from Rahon kept the Gaels from trailing at the end of the first half and they headed to the locker room tied up, 22-22.
“We played tight and Portland kept that game close. You got to be able to pull through that,” said Bennett. “You don’t want pressure? Then lose. The pressure will go away real fast if that happens. There is a pressure every game and we were ready for this one. We just struggled shooting the ball.”
In the second half, shooting percentages stayed low—30.6 percent for the night—and the rest of the numbers stayed relatively close. Where the Gaels outrebounded the Pilots 50-to-16 in the last outing, they were dead even at 34 during this go.
The Pilots were held to a low a shooting percentage (32.7). And sophomore guard Jazz Johnson was the only Pilot to reach double digit points (10). Scrappy senior Jarrel Marshall was their next highest scorer with nine.
The next time the Gaels take the court it will be under circumstances the program hasn’t seen in over 60 years. On Saturday at 5:15 p.m., Saint Mary’s is set to host No. 1 Gonzaga. The last time they hosted the number one team in the country was during the 1954-55 season. It was the Dons of San Francisco. The Gaels lost 65-57, and the Dons went on to win the NCAA tournament. ESPN College Gameday makes eight appearances throughout the season. They’ll be at McKeon Pavilion on Saturday.
“We don’t get all the glamour, all the cool facilities you see on the road, but you come here to win and play in league championships,” says Rahon. “We’re right where we want to be and we’re going out there on Saturday as prepared as we can.”
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