MORAGA, Calif.--Saint Mary’s wore T-shirts in warm-ups to honor Australia Day but it was an American who shined for the Gaels.
Pepperdine hung around for much of the game but Saint Mary’s finally broke it open in the middle of the second half behind the efforts of Beau Levesque and beat the Waves 84-72 on Saturday afternoon.
"That game is a good example of our league is better in the middle," Saint Mary's head coach Randy Bennett said. "It was a good thing we shot it well, good thing we played well offensively."
Saint Mary’s (17-4, 6-1 WCC) has won 12 straight games against Pepperdine dating back to 2007 and only two have been decided by fewer than 10 points.
Three of next four games are on the road for Saint Mary’s including games at Santa Clara and San Diego.
Whenever Saint Mary’s began to give themselves some breathing room, Pepperdine (10-10, 2-5) responded almost immediately.
Saint Mary’s led by as much as 11 in the first half but Pepperdine chipped away at the lead, cutting it down to two at one point. The Gaels came into the second half up by nine and quickly pushed their lead to 14. Pepperdine fired back and cut the lead back to 11.
In both instances, the difference came when Levesque entered the game.
Back-to-back layups from Kyle Rowley gave Saint Mary’s a 37-30 lead and Pepperdine answered again with five straight points to make it a two-point game.
Saint Mary’s started to clear a gap toward the end of the half and it was all Levesque. His three put the Gaels up 45-36 and, after a Jan Maehlen layup, he scored on two straight reverse layups.
In the second half, Pepperdine began mounting another comeback and cut the lead to 58-47. Saint Mary’s scored 10 of the next 13 points, including four from Levesque and they took a commanding 68-50 lead.
"I thought tonight he seemed like he got all the boards when we needed them, giving us second shots," Bennett said. "In the first half, he did a good job in taking what the defense gave him. That's where I think he's really improved."
"He makes us tough to defend."
Levesque scored 19 points only two nights after setting a career-high with 20 points against San Diego. He said he hadn't been this efficient on offense since his junior varsity year in high school.
"It feels good," Levesque said. "The results are starting to finally show."
Pepperdine had one of its better offensive games and could not stop Saint Mary’s from getting to the basket. The Waves entered the game holding opponents to 40 percent shooting but the Gaels lit up the scoreboard, shooting 53 percent.
"I think some of our offensive execution took away from our defense, which it shouldn't," Pepperdine head coach Marty Wilson said. "Our offense is clicking, our defense should elevate a little bit more. Like I said they're a very good offensive team. Dellavedova is as good as there is at the point, making plays. He makes everybody's job easier."
Dellavedova picked up double digit assists for the second straight game and his second double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 assists.
"He's one of the best passers I've ever played with," Levesque said. "You know when you're cutting to the basket, you're going to get open. If you get open, he's going to find you. It's great to play with a good leader and a great point guard."
Jordan Baker led Pepperdine with 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting.
Saint Mary’s shot 64 percent in the first half but were unable to shake off Pepperdine, who nearly matched them shot for shot.
With Saint Mary’s up 20-16, the Gaels scored six straight points and pushed their lead to 10. The Waves answered and were able to cut the Saint Mary’s lead to down three behind Jordan Baker and Lorne Jackson.
Pepperdine shot 55 percent in the half.
Optimism in Malibu
The scary thing is we have three freshman in a lot of times, sometimes at the end of games. What it's doing is give them confidence and the experience to learn on the fly but they're doing well in what we're trying to do.
Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @Zack_Farmer