Saint Mary’s had the best player on the floor in Jock Landale. The Gaels also had the second best player on the floor in crunch time in Calvin Hermanson.
The two seniors combined to score 24 of Saint Mary’s last 27 points and guide a second-half comeback that erased Gonzaga’s seven-point lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Landale did most of the heavy lifting late, scoring 11 points in the final 7 minutes as the Gaels rallied past No. 13 Gonzaga 74-71 Thursday night in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center and a national television audience on ESPN.
Saint Mary’s (18-2, 7-0 WCC), winner of 13 straight, took over first place in the WCC with its second win at the McCarthey Athletic Center in three seasons. Gonzaga (16-4, 6-1) dropped into second.
It was a clinic offensively by both teams from the opening tip, but the Gaels didn’t get rattled when GU built a 52-43 lead and their execution was impressive in the closing stages. Gonzaga, led by Rui Hachimura’s career-high 23 points, cooled off in the final 10 minutes with just three field goals and 10 points.
“Two heavyweights going back and forth, neither one of us stopping the other very well,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We had a couple of empty possessions down the stretch and they didn’t. They have a guy (Landale) they can throw it to that can really deliver and that was the difference in the game.”
The 6-foot-11 Landale had his way inside, using his 255-pound frame to carve out space and his footwork, polished moves and soft touch to finish around the rim. The Zags tried an assortment of defensive tactics; often it was Landale matched up against Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams.
Nothing seemed to bother Landale, who was one of the best players in the WCC last year but he struggled against GU’s bigger, deeper frontcourt. He battled foul trouble and averaged 14.6 points and 6 rebounds in three Zags wins.
Landale made 8 of 9 shots and scored 17 points in the second half.
“We tried doubling him, fronting,” Few said, “everything you could possibly do on numerous occasions.”
Saint Mary’s had similar issues with Hachimura, who struck for 15 points in the first half. He dropped in a couple of 15-foot jumpers and used his size and strength advantage inside against Tanner Krebs to pile up paint points.
The Zags had the upper hand after Killian Tillie’s post-up bucket made it 52-43. They went cold for a few minutes but were still up by seven after Hachimura’s elbow jumper. Another dry spell proved costly.
“We should have grown the lead but we didn’t,” said point guard Josh Perkins, who had seven assists but was just 1 of 9 from the field.
The Gaels did a better job on Hachimura later in the game but he still overpowered Krebs for a close-range bucket to tie it at 70 with 1:30 left. Landale got loose for back-to-back layups to give Saint Mary’s a 74-71 lead.
Gonzaga ran a play with three different 3-point options. Perkins air-balled a 3 that was tightly contested by Landale. Perkins complained to the officials that the shot was tipped but to no avail.
SMC’s Jordan Ford missed a free throw that would have sealed it. Hachimura’s desperation 35-footer at the buzzer was off target.
“There were some good players on that court,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “I hadn’t really seen Hachimura up front. We saw him a little last year but he’s a different dude and he’s a handful. Perkins didn’t have one of his better nights, but Williams is a heck of a player. They’re good, they’re really good. It was a heck of a win for us.”
Hachimura made 11 of 16 shots. He added four rebounds and two blocks. The Zags called several plays for Hachimura in the final minutes. He delivered with a tying bucket on one but the Zags weren’t able to get him the ball on another.
“They executed their plays to a T down the stretch,” Gonzaga guard Silas Melson said. “We didn’t make our possessions count when it mattered. In a low possession game like this, that will bite you.”