MORAGA — The Saint Mary’s men’s basketball team has a simple and tested strategy: Pound the ball inside early, and hit shots from the outside late.
An upstart University of San Francisco team was able to withstand the early part of the attack on Thursday night at McKeon Pavilion, but the game got out of control for the Dons once the Gaels started letting the long-balls fly.
Saint Mary’s (ranked No. 21 nationally) outscored USF, 36-16, in the second half — leading to a 66-46 win to sweep the season series.
“They smelled it on us a little bit that a little doubt crept in and they turned us over and got some easy buckets,” first-year Dons head coach Kyle Smith said afterwards.
The game turned on Smith’s squad quickly. One moment, USF forced a tie, the next Saint Mary’s ripped off 14-straight points. Smith worked hard to earn a technical foul during that process.
“I was kind of pissed,” he admitted.
But his sideline histrionics weren’t enough to stem the tide as the Dons shot 6-for-21 over the final 16 minutes.
The missed shots and six turnovers set the Gaels up nicely for open looks in transition and put USF in scramble-mode, which isn’t a good place to be considering Saint Mary’s considerable number of shooters. Emmett Naar and the bespectacled Calvin Hermanson each scored a game-high 18 points, combining to shoot 6-for-10 from deep.
“You’ve got to play well. You can’t give them any freebies and we did that,” Smith said.
The Gaels have beaten the Dons 23 out of the last 24 times they’ve played. But SMC head coach Randy Bennett, who Smith used to serve as an assistant coach, said there’s reason to be hopeful on the Hilltop.
“I think they’re good,” he said. “We played really well the second half. I knew that was going to be a tough game.”