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Gonzaga Basketball

Freshman Aidan Mahaney leads Saint Mary’s past Gonzaga 78-70 in overtime

MORAGA, Calif. – It was the heavyweight battle most predicted between the West Coast Conference’s two best teams. Saint Mary’s guard Aidan Mahaney, one of the smallest players on the court, landed most of the decisive blows down the stretch.

Mahaney guided the 18th-ranked Gaels to a 78-70 comeback victory over No. 12 Gonzaga in overtime Saturday night inside a packed University Credit Union Pavilion.

Saint Mary’s (21-4, 10-0 WCC) took a major step toward ending Gonzaga’s run of 10 consecutive conference titles. Gonzaga dropped to 19-5, 8-2. The teams meet again Feb. 25 in Spokane, but the Zags need help from other WCC teams to catch Saint Mary’s.

The Gaels won for just the second time in 10 series meetings when both teams are ranked.

“First of all, it was a great game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Two teams competed at a high level. We were in position to win.”

The Zags led nearly the entire way, including an 11-point bulge in the first half, and they were on top 51-43 with 6:45 remaining. That’s when things got interesting.

Gonzaga had put together a strong defensive effort on the Gaels’ talented backcourt of Mahaney and Logan Johnson for most of the night. Johnson began to heat up near the midpoint of the second half, but he exited with 12 points after picking up his fifth foul with 4:51 left.

Mahaney shook off what had been a rough night with five straight baskets on drives to the rim in the closing minutes. The 6-foot-3 freshman had been 2 of 11 from the field before taking over for the Gaels.

Mahaney’s run of baskets pulled Saint Mary’s even at 57 and 59.

“Mahaney hit some tough runners,” Few said. “We tried everybody on the roster on him, He hit them on our best defender, Anton (Watson). I think he hit three of them over (Watson). Those are tough shots and he hit them. He deserves credit.”

Julian Strawther hit a floater in the paint to give Gonzaga a 61-59 lead with 33.8 seconds left. Mahaney, who was drawing double-teams at times on the last couple of possessions of regulation, fed Mitchell Saxen for a layup to tie it at 61 with 5.5 ticks remaining.

Strawther’s 3-point attempt was off target. Malachi Smith connected on a second-chance attempt from about 15 feet, but it came after the buzzer had sounded.

In overtime, it was more of the same: Mahaney making plays and the Zags powerless to stop him. He fed Alex Ducas for a layup to put Saint Mary’s in front 63-62 – the Gaels’ first lead since 4-3.

Drew Timme hit a pair of free throws to cut SMC’s lead to 65-64, but Mahaney answered again, with a bit of good fortune. He banked in a 3-pointer with 3:10 remaining to extend the Gaels’ lead to 68-64. Mahaney then fired a pass to Saxen for another layup and a 70-64 advantage.

Nolan Hickman hit a 3-pointer to trim SMC’s lead to 71-67. Hickman had another chance after a Gaels’ turnover, but he missed in transition and took a hard fall under the basket. He appeared to hurt his right foot or ankle and hobbled off the court with help from the training staff.

Gonzaga was just 2 of 7 from the field and 3 of 6 at the free-throw line in overtime. The Gaels hit 5 of 6 shots and 6 of 8 free throws in the extra session.

Mahaney finished with 18 points and three assists, all coming late in regulation and in overtime. Saxen added 15 points and 11 boards before fouling out.

Timme had a solid night against the Gaels after scoring just 16 points in the past two meetings. His basket early in the second half moved him past Jim McPhee into second on Gonzaga’s all-time scoring list.

The senior forward finished with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Smith added 13 points off the bench and Strawther contributed 10 points.

The Zags executed at both ends of the floor to build a 32-24 halftime advantage. Gonzaga went on top at 5-4 on Timme’s layup, which triggered a 9-0 spurt. The margin grew to 25-14 on Ben Gregg’s 3-pointer from the top of the key.

GU was humming along at 61.1% from the floor, even after a 3-minute scoring drought that saw Saint Mary’s only trim two points off its deficit. The Zags’ offense tailed off later in the half, finishing just 1 of 7 from the field, but their defense kept them comfortably in front.

Mahaney, who averages a team-leading 14.8 points, and Johnson combined for just four points on 2-of-15 shooting in the opening half.