By Kimberly Paschal | Sports Editor
On Thursday, Jan. 26, the No. 21 Saint Mary’s Gaels celebrated Australia Day with their match up against the San Francisco Dons. With the singing of the Australian National Anthem and the Star Spangled Banner, the Gaels were ready to take on their Bay Area rival. The Gaels and Dons traded baskets for much of the first half, but the Gaels took a strong lead in the second half to go on and defeat Dons 66-46. With their win against USF at the Hilltop and now in McKeon, Saint Mary’s has swept USF in both their Bay Area rivalry match ups.
In the first half, Saint Mary’s and USF were tied 10-10 with 11:31 left to play. Aussies Emmett Naar and Jock Landale got off to a great start in the Australia Day celebration with eight of the ten points. The Gaels battled the first half, but USF battled right back. With 6:53 left in the first half, USF took a 23-16 lead, but Saint Mary’s battled back and took a 27-25 lead with 2:48 left. The Gaels and Dons traded baskets and at halftime, the score was tied at 30-30. At the half, both teams had 16 points in the paint and 10 defensive rebounds. The Gaels had eight assists on 12 made baskets while the Dons had four assists on 13 made baskets.
The Gaels started the second half with no mercy. The Gaels had their largest lead at 48-34 off an 18-4 run that was supported by a layup by Hermanson and two made free throws by Naar off a technical foul by USF.
The Gales run grew to 26-6 with both strong offense and defense. Saint Mary’s held USF to two of their last nine field goal attempts. “We put a lot of work into trying to get better at extending our leads,” Hermanson stated. “Once we came out in the second half with a lot of energy, we played good defense.” The Gaels held the Dons to a 42 shooting percent overall and 22 percent from the three-point line after they shot 52 percent in the first half.
“Dane specifically was ridiculous tonight, getting hands on a lot of loose balls. He was that spark for us and we took it from there,” Naar said of fellow Australian Dane Pineau.
With the 66-46 win over USF, the Gaels completed their season sweep of the Dons and looked to defeat their other Bay Area rival, the Santa Clara Broncos on Saturday.
Saturday, the Gaels used their arsenal to defeat the Broncos: strong defense, excellent three-point shooting, and efficient free throws. The Broncos, who just came off a 76-68 win against BYU, started off strong. In the first half, the Gaels went on a 16-0 run to take a 26-11 lead with 8:19 left in the first half. Despite the Gaels leading by as much as 15 points, the Broncos chipped away at the Gaels lead with an 11-5 run and cut the Gaels lead to five. At halftime, the score was 35-30.
The Gaels started the second half with a bang. By the 10:23 mark, the Gaels were up 53-37 and it looked like they would blow out the Broncos, but the Broncos would not surrender.
“Jock was really good offensively,” said the Gaels’ Head Coach Randy Bennett. “He was great, put us in a position to win.” Landale had 20 points, 11 rebounds, and went 9-16 from the field. Landale put up a strong performance despite struggling with foul trouble. With 6:19 left to play, Landale got his fourth foul and was subbed out for Evan Fitzner.
The Broncos cut the Gaels 16-point lead to five, 55-50, with 6:11 left to play in the second half. This was not worry for the Gaels as they made two from behind the arc and sunk their free throws with attempts by Hermanson, Fitzner, Naar, and Jordan Ford. Saint Mary’s defeated Bay Area rival Santa Clara (12-11, 6-4 WCC) 72-59.
No. 21 Saint Mary’s is now 19-2 overall and 9-1 in WCC action. With a 19-2 start, the Gaels are off to their best start since the 2011-2012 season when Matthew Dellavedova lead the Gaels to second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Gaels will take a short trip to Stockton on Thursday to play Pacific and look to complete a season sweep of the Tigers. The game can be seen on ESPNU or Gael fans can listen live with Alex Jensen on TuneIn Radio.