Saint Mary’s, Beware

Fullerton, Calif., November 23, 2017 – Saint Mary’s, beware. Building another 28-point lead in the Wooden Legacy tournament might just fire up its next opponent.

The No. 21 Gaels (5-0) saw that lead dwindle to single digits rather quickly before holding on for an 89-71 victory over Harvard (2-3) in the annual tournament’s opening game at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym on Thursday.

They’ll have to keep a wary on Washington State, which has already erased 20-point deficits twice this season, and the Cougars stung Saint Joseph’s, 75-71, with another rally.

The pending second-half collision between the teams promises to be intriguing. After a nearly flawless first half against Harvard, Saint Mary’s watched Harvard roar back with a 12-0 run by making seven shots in a row before the Gaels took even one shot after halftime. In that stretch, Saint Mary’s committed five turnovers after entering the game averaging only 6.8 miscues per game.

That plays right into Washington State’s hands. The Cougars have trailed at halftime in three games and have twice come back from deficits of 20 points or more. In fact, they’re averaging 49 points per game in the second half.

“I’m going to let the other coaches coach the first half,” Gaels coach Ernie Kent quipped. “I’m going to stay in the locker room, talk to them at halftime then come out in the second half. Maybe that will change our fate, I don’t know.”

Saint Mary’s is officially on notice.

“I thought we played our best half of the year in the first half, then we played about our worst five minutes to start the second half,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “Credit them, they came back in the second half and pressured us, caused us to turn over the ball, which we don’t normally do.”

Maybe the Gaels can find a little more playing time for senior guard Cullen Neal, who had 15 points, 2 rebounds and a steal in only 12 minutes. Point guard Emmett Naar played all but one minute and nearly produced a triple-double (11 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists) to support 6-foot-11 forward Jock Landale, who had 26 points, 7 rebounds and made 12 of 13 free throws.

Harvard forward Chris Lewis, working against Landale, scored 10 of his 18 points in the second half after the Crimson made only 9 of 33 shots (27.3 percent) in the opening 20 minutes.

“In the second half our kids showed some life and showed some fire and competed and I thought in particular, Chris Lewis was a bright spot for us,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We started to play completely through him and that made a big difference for our team, especially in the second half.”

Saint Joseph’s went the other direction, building a 20-point lead in the first before watching Washington State rally with a 51-point second half.

“The plus is we get to play tomorrow,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said. “And the lesson is the next time we play back-to-back games will be in the Atlantic 10 tournament, and obviously to lose like that and go home would be crushing.”

Georgia (4-0) had to face a variety of defenses and the hot shooting of Kyle Allman to get past tournament host Cal State Fullerton, 64-57. They’ll meet San Diego State hoping their experience can once again carry them when it counts.

“I thought our experience and the fact we’ve had a good team the last couple years was key for us,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We didn’t play particularly well in the first half. Fullerton’s kids beat us to the punch on a lot of things in half No. 1, but ultimately our experience found us a way to win.”

The Bulldogs are looking for a way to replace point guard J.J. Frazier and junior Turtle Jackson is starting to grab the role. For the third time this season, he scored a career high, this time with 16 points in 33 minutes.

“We’re trying to replace a point guard who was terrific for us for about three years,” Fox said. “We have some guys who are taking baby steps in that role.”

San Diego State (4-1) had no trouble putting away Sacramento State of the Big Sky conference, 89-52, after jumping out to a 49-14 halftime advantage. The Aztecs had 11 players score, led by Devin Watson’s 12 points. The Hornets (1-4) went 0-for-13 on 3-point tries in the first half and trailed by as many as 47 points.