By Kimberly Paschal | Sports Editor

Jock Landale (34) jumps to tip-off the men’s basketball team’s 2017-2018 home opener against Sant Francis. (Courtesy of SMC Gaels)

On Saturday evening, Gaels fans packed into McKeon Pavilion to enjoy the opening of the men’s basketball season.

Gaels fans may have been able to watch the No. 22 ranked team late last month in an exhibition game against Fresno State or during the team’s Blue-White scrimmage earlier this month, but fans were finally able to see the Gaels in full action on Saturday. Saint Francis was no match for Saint Mary’s as the Gaels cruised to an 85-68 victory.

The game got off to a quick start with Jock Landale winning the jump ball and Evan Fitzner putting the Gaels on the board first with a quick layup. Saint Francis quickly answered with a bucket of their own. Both teams got off to a quick start with a combined 11-of-15 shooting in the first 5:07 of the game.

After being chosen to four watch lists—the Citizen Naismith Watch List, the Lou Henson Watch List, the Lute Olson Watch List, and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Watch List—senior Jock Landale did not disappoint after starting with seven points and making his first three shots.

Much like last season, the Gaels continued to show their strong offense, going on an 8-2 run. Saint Francis in turn fell flat and went 0-for-5 shooting from the floor. With a 22-18 lead, Tanner Krebs and Calvin Hermanson helped lead an 8-2 run with 8:31 remaining in the first half, which itself led to a solid 30-20 lead.

However, the Red Flash were not going to sit down and roll over, and they came back with a 9-0 run off three consecutive threes in a little bit over a minute. Fitzner silenced the run with a putback layup and made the score 32-29.

At halftime, the Gaels were up 46-36 and shot 50 percent from the field. Hermanson led the Gaels at halftime with 16 points. He started the game 9-9 from the field.

“I wasn’t keeping track so I probably fall under the category of not really knowing,” said Hermanson of his perfect start. I was just trying to shoot the best shot for us on offense and trying to find the open man. Tonight I hit shots, it could be any of us the next night.”

The second half started rather slow but quickly picked up. The Gaels held a double-digit lead the entire second half and shot an impressive 59.3 percent from the floor while only allowing 22 field-goal attempts from Saint Francis and five turnovers.

As with any home opener, last Saturday night’s provided Gaels fans with a chance to welcome some new faces to their home arena. Jock Perry, Tommy Kuhse, and Elijah Thomas, all of whom redshirted last season, had impacts on the game.Thomas brought the Pavilion to its feet and energized Gaels fans with back-to-back threes to put the Gaels up 72-52.

McKeon Pavilion stayed true to its storied atmosphere with much energy and excitement from not only Gael Force but also the entire Pavilion. With just 3:50 left to play, Fitzner hit his second trey to send fans in a frenzy and give the Gaels a 22-point led—their largest of the night.

The No. 22 Gaels went on to defeat the Red Flash in a 85-67 victory to start off their season 1-0. With much discussion about the Gaels leading up to their home opener, one thing can be said about this team: They are legit.

Jordan Ford made his first career start and added six points. Senior Emmett Naar had a career-high 12 assists. Hermanson led all players with 24 points, just three shy of his 27-point career-high. He also finished 9-for-10 from the field and 5-of-6 from the three-point arc. The Gaels shot 46 percent from the three-point range on 26 attempts. Saint Mary’s also outrebounded the Red Flash 36-22.

With their 16th consecutive season-opening win, the Gaels look to continue their homestand with a win against New Mexico State at McKeon Pavillion on Monday at 7 p.m. Saint Mary’s leads the all-time matchup with the Aggies 4-1. The game can be viewed on Comcast Hometown Network.

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