By: Ryan Moran
SMC Athletic Communications
MORAGA, Calif. — In front of a sold out crowd, No. 20 Saint Mary’s gave their seniors—Joe Rahon and Dane Pineau—a proper sendoff against a Bay Area rival. The historic regular season concluded with a 70-56 victory over the Santa Clara Broncos during Saturday nights contest at McKeon Pavilion.
The Gaels (26-3, 16-2 WCC) reached unprecedented heights this season by holding on to a top-25 spot for 16 consecutive weeks. In fact, they annihilated their previous record. In 2008 and 2012 they went five straight weeks. The fans showed their appreciation by filling the standing room only section and rarely letting the decibels settle.
And it was a somewhat difficult game to stay cheering, due to the stark contrast in scoring efficiency. Where the Gaels came out shooting 11-for-14 to start the game, they went just 1-for-7 to open the second half.
“To start the second half, we couldn’t really score,” said junior guard Emmett Naar. “That’s where our defense comes into it.
The difference was, in fact, the same stingy defense displayed all season—the one who leads the conference in points allowed (56.1, 2nd NCAA). The Broncos were held to just two second half field goals until the nine-minute mark. Along the way, the Gaels dished out 10 unanswered points.
“It’s not easy for us to score,” said head coach Randy Bennett. “Our offensive numbers are good, but we have to grind, and we’re grindy because of our defense. Our defense has made us consistent.”
Four Gaels reached double figures in the rout. Junior center Jock Landale led the way with 17 points and Emmett Narr and Calvin Hermanson each added 13. Pineau, keeper of the highest career field goal percentage for any Gael (62), turned in 10 on 5-for-8 shooting.
Just minutes into the start, the Gaels caught fire. A 16-2 run fueled by three-point precision—where four of four met the bottom of the net—gave the Gaels their first cushion, 20-8. Two of the long balls came from Naar, and the others from Rahon and Hermanson.
But the Broncos (16-15, 10-8 WCC) answered back with a run of their own to momentarily avoid falling too far behind before Saint Mary’s closed out the final five minutes of the first half with the 12-4 scoring advantage, thrusting them ahead 41-29.
And the lead never again dipped below nine points, reaching as high as 20.
“These guys are very good at being ready to play every night,” said Bennett, reflecting on the regular season. “That’s what makes this group special. We’ve got beat three times, but we haven’t had any no-shows.”
Two Broncos managed to reach double figures. Sophomore guard Matt Hauser and Senior guard Jared Brownridge, they each had 15. But a lack of production from the rest of the squad pushed them beyond reasonable competition.
And Saint Mary’s won the battle down low, outscoring the Broncos in the paint 36-22 and out-rebounding 33-21. They drew 20 fouls and scored 17 points off the the Broncos 10 turnovers. Tonight’s win clinched what will go down as the highest winning percentage in Saint Mary’s history, regardless of what happens during the rest of the season.
Next up: Vegas, baby. The West Coast Conference Championship will be held at Orleans Arena March 2-7. The winner is guaranteed admission to the Big Dance. Since Saint Mary’s secured the second seed, they are set to play the winner of the seventh (San Diego) and tenth seed (Portland) on Saturday March, 4 at 9 p.m. Catch the broadcast on ESPN 2 or the WatchESPN app.
And while the Gaels resume looks better than it did at this time last season, a win in Vegas is irrefutably at the forefront of the team’s focus.
“Our RPI is way up there (16) and last year it was high 20s, low 30s,” said Bennett, on confidence for making the NCAA tournament. “It’s different, but we’re going to try to do something different and win up in Vegas.”
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