By Phil Collin
Anaheim, Calif., Nov. 23, 2022 – It was the Mitchell Saxen show early for Saint Mary’s Wednesday. Then the Gaels handed control over to guards Logan Johnson and Aidan Mahaney and they pulled away steadily to score a 75-65 win over Vanderbilt in the first round of the Paycom Wooden Legacy at the Anaheim Arena.
Mahaney, a freshman, led the way with 20 points, Johnson, a fifth-year senior, had 19 points, seven rebounds and eight assists for Saint Mary’s (6-0), which will face Washington in Thursday’s championship game. It was the Gaels’ first game away from home.
Saxen, a 6-foot-10 junior center, scored 12 of his 19 points in the first 10 1/ 2 minutes. Combined, the trio made 23 of 35 shots for 58 points for Saint Mary’s, which made 56.9 percent of its shots for the game but struggled at the foul line, making only 14 of 25 free throws.
“We feel good about how we played,” Saint Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett said. “Our guards did a good job of controlling the game and making good decisions. Had we shot free throws better, I think it would have been less stressful, let’s just say that.
“This is kind of how we play. We play off Saxen a lot, these guards get him layups on rolls. Mitchell made some big buckets, but the guards helped him.”
Guard Jordan Wright scored 22 points to lead Vanderbilt (2-3), which took a brief one-point lead in the second half and was still within three with 8:02 left before Saint Mary’s responded with a 10-4 run to resume control.
Guard Tyrin Lawrence scored 13 points and forward Myles Stute added 12 for the Commodores, who will face Fresno State in the third-place game.
“Our game plan was to take the 3-pointer out of the game from them, they’ve been shooting it really well,” Vanderbilt Coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “I thought we did. We made them play in the mid-range and they stepped up and made shots.
“It’s tough to come on the road and win against a good team when you shoot 28 percent in the first half. We figured it out a little bit better in the second half and I thought we contained them a little better. We had some opportunities, we got back in the game, we just came up a little short.”
The Gaels took a 35-27 halftime lead thanks to Mahaney’s long 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“It was a great team effort,” Johnson said. “Everybody pitched in and showed up. When you have Saxen scoring at the rim like that, it’s pretty easy to pass. He just had to finish and kudos to him for finishing those.”
Johnson was effusive in his praise for Mahaney.
“He’s fearless,” Johnson said. “He’s not scared of anything. He’s not scared to take a big shot. He’s not scared to shoot it if he’s missed 10 times. That’s what we practice every day. He’s a killer. He’s definitely making big strides to be a really good guard, not only the (West Coast Conference) but in the country.”