The Saint Mary’s Gaels resuscitated their NCAA Tournament hopes with a big road win against their biggest rival. In front of a raucous and hostile crowd, the Gaels narrowly squeaked out a 74-71 victory and have now won 13 straight games.
Jock Landale led all players with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Calvin Hermanson chipped in 16 points while Emmett Naar contributed 8 assists despite only scoring 4 points. Rui Hachimura led Gonzaga in scoring with a career high 23 points. Johnathan Williams (13 points), Killian Tillie (11 points), and Zach Norvell (10 points) also reached double figures.
Both offenses played as advertised in the opening stanza of the game that saw the teams exchange baskets for nearly the entire first half. Through the first nine minutes, the two squads combined for seven missed shots as patience and ball movement highlighted the crispness of the offensive execution on display.
Saint Mary’s ran through its deliberate sets, cycling between pick-n-rolls and post-ups to Jock Landale to suck in Gonzaga’s defense and create open shots. Not to be outdone, Gonzaga took great care of the ball and leaned on its frontcourt to do the heavy lifting against SMC’s defense.
Hachimura, in particular, continued his excellent conference play with a dominant first half that saw him score 15 points on 7-9 shooting. Like a rubiks cube he couldn’t solve, Randy Bennett tried various combinations of defenders to slow down Hachimura but none were up to the job. While the sophomore forward from Japan was the star of the first half, he wasn’t the only Zag that had a strong first half.
Melson continued his hot shooting in the Kennel with a pair of threes, while Tillie had a three possession sequence that saw him finish an alley-oop, deflect a high entry pass which he turned into a steal before finishing in transition with a perfectly executed eurostep. Not wanting to be left out, Norvell, who was getting his first real taste of this rivalry, hit SMC inside and out with a corner three and a pair of impressive finishes at the rim in the teeth of the opposing defense.
The Bulldogs went into halftime with a deserved 4-point lead despite a scoreless first half from Perkins and the Gaels shooting above 60% from the field.
Gonzaga landed the initial blow in the second half as it stretched its lead to nine points. But the knockout punch proved elusive, and the Gaels clawed their way back in to the game thanks to a 7-0 mini run that cut the deficit to 52-50 in Gonzaga’s favor. The Zags made another push only to see SMC regain the lead at 65-63 with six minutes left to play thanks to timely shooting from the arc.
From that point on it was a matter of which team would blink first. On this night, that team was Gonzaga as a Norvell missed free throw with 42 seconds left prevented the Zags from tying the game. SMC extended its lead to three points on its next possession with a Landale layup and Gonzaga’s struggles from the arc (6-22) continued to the bitter end and no game-tying three ever materialized despite a pair of attempts from Perkins and then Hachimura at the buzzer.
It was certainly a tough loss for the Zags, but it was the Gaels who really needed to come out of the game with a win with no resume-building opportunities on their schedule beyond Gonzaga. Saint Mary’s big star in Landale proved to be the difference in the end as he scored 11 of SMC’s final 13 points to help seal the win.
Gonzaga will get a chance to even the season series on February 10.