Saint Mary’s held off a late run from BYU behind its defense and was able to come away with the 64-57 West Coast Conference win on Thursday night.
With the win, the Gaels (23-5, 12-2 WCC) put down another quality win on their resume for the NCAA Tournament and, in the immediate, have clinched a spot in the WCC Championship semifinals.
“That means one less game you have to play there and there’s a good chance we play these guys again,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said. “It means a lot to get that bye.”
Saint Mary’s has won four straight games against BYU (20-9, 9-5) since the Cougars joined the WCC.
“It was a tough, competitive game,” Bennett said. “They did a good job defensively on us in that zone. We don’t get zoned that much. They stayed in it and they did a good job on us. Both times we’ve played them, they’ve been great wins for us and they could help us moving forward.”
BYU has continued to be unable to finish out games against tough opponents and has three losses in their last four conference games. Fouls were also troublesome for BYU as they put Saint Mary’s in the bonus with 13:05 left in the second half.
Saint Mary’s trailed at the half but much like the Gaels did the last time they met BYU, they made a run in the second half.
The Gaels trailed 34-28 but found their offensive rhythm behind Stephen Holt and Matthew Dellavedova and went on a 13-2 run to give them the 41-36. Holt and Dellavedova combined to score nine points in the run.
But Brandon Davies got BYU back into the game.
The senior forward hit a running, sweeping hook in the lane and got the foul to get BYU back within two.
Davies finished with a game-high 25 points and nine rebounds.
But with Saint Mary’s up 45-44, Saint Mary’s turned the tide. Brad Waldow missed a running hook in the lane but recovered to rip the rebound away from Davies and hit the layup to give the Gaels a 47-44 lead.
On the ensuing Saint Mary’s possession, BYU nearly had forced the Gaels into a shot clock violation but a turnaround heave from Waldow went off the rim, Beau Levesque missed the tip-in, but Jordan Giusti swooped in for the rebound and was fouled, sending him to the line.
“We let them get a few rebounds that we should have gotten in the second half,” BYU guard Tyler Haws said. “[It] just hurts.”
Giusti made them both to give Saint Mary’s the 49-44 lead.
But again, Davies brought BYU back. He scored BYU’s next six points but it was a Brock Zylstra three in transition that cut the Saint Mary’s lead to 54-53 with 5:04 left.
The Cougars went right back to Davies but this time the Gaels had an answer. Matt Hodgson blocked Davies on consecutive possessions and the Gaels recovered each rebound.
“He’s somebody Davies couldn’t just shoot it over,” Bennett said. “He’s been playing well in practice.”
Levesque hit a three and it gave Saint Mary’s a 57-53 lead.
BYU had the chance to tie when Matt Carlino was fouled and BYU down 59-57 but the sophomore missed both free throws and Dellavedova grabbed the rebound and he was fouled. Dellavedova made one of two free throws, giving the Gaels a three-point lead.
Dellavedova led the Gaels with 20 points on 6-for-14 from the field to go with four assists.
Carlino came down with only seconds left and hoisted a three, which he airballed, sealing the win.
“They just made the plays down the stretch to win,” Haws said. “We gave ourselves chances but they made the plays to win.”
Haws scored 12 points on 4-for-10 from the field but was continually frustrated by the Saint Mary’s defense, specifically Dellavedova and Holt.
“They did a good job on Haws,” Bennett said. “He’s a handful.”
It was physical early on and it seemed to suit BYU early on.
The Cougars scored three straight baskets, with two of them coming from Davies, to give them an early 13-6 lead but Saint Mary’s battled back.
Brad Waldow, Beau Levesque, and Dellavedova all hit baskets to tie the game at 13.
But every time the Gaels made a push, it was Davies to push right back. After Saint Mary’s had taken a 22-21 lead, Davies took over. He scored twice in the lane to give BYU the 25-22 lead.
Davies had 12 points in the first half to go along with five rebounds and four assists.
BYU shot 59 percent in the first half and held the Gaels to 34 percent.
Despite the sharpshooting and solid defense, Saint Mary’s was able to stay in the game with the three and while taking advantage of seven BYU turnovers. The Gaels hit four threes in the half.
Haws entered the game with 991 points and hit the 1,000 point plateau early in the second half, becoming only the second BYU sophomore ever to do so (Danny Ainge).