SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It was clear from the opening minutes that this would not be Santa Clara’s night.
Saint Mary’s led by as much as 16 in the first half behind Beau Levesque and used a second half run to cruise to the 84-63 West Coast Conference win over Santa Clara on Thursday.
The Gaels (20-4, 9-1 WCC) have won eight straight against Santa Clara and have extended their season-high winning streak to seven. This win paired with a BYU loss to San Diego has moved them a game and a half up on the Cougars for second in the WCC.
“They’re hard to guard and we did a pretty good job of playing disciplined with what we’re trying to do,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said. “I thought all of our guys were pretty good defensively. Overall, one of our best games of the year.”
Saint Mary’s dominated the opening minutes of the second half in tempo and on the scoreboard.
The Gaels opened the half on a 14-5 run and later was able to push the lead up to 18 after a layup and free throw from Levesque.
Only two weeks after scoring a career-high 20 points against San Diego, Levesque topped that mark with 24 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go along with his six rebounds rebounds.
His six threes on the night were also a career-best.
Santa Clara (17-8, 5-5) put together a couple of runs but could never get it back to single digits.
The loss for Santa Clara hurts even more with the San Diego win. The Broncos have fallen a game back of the Toreros for fourth place in the WCC, which earns a first round bye in the WCC Tournament in March.
Matthew Dellavedova, who picked up two early fouls in the first half, did not score until the 5:41 mark in the second half but his presence alone changed the look of the Gaels offense.
He was constantly double teamed and found teammate after teammate for easy buckets. Dellavedova had nine assists on the night.
“You got to choose what you’re going to take away and we made a decision on that and it was fine,” Santa Clara head coach Kerry Keating said. “Then we weren’t putting the ball in the basket.”
Santa Clara shot 40 percent from the field and despite having four players in double figures could not get any solid stretch of offense.
Bennett’s response to the idea of his team winning by 21 with Dellavedova with no field goals?
“You’re crazy,” he said. “If you told me if he was going to have six turnovers I would have reallly doubted it. He did a lot of good things.”
Dellavedova picked up his second foul with 15:39 left in the first half and Bennett pulled him for James Walker III. After a couple of possessions, it was clear the offense struggled without the reigning WCC Player of the Year and he was reinserted.
The foul trouble got worse when Stephen Holt picked up his second foul with 11:36 left in the first half and after a pair of free throws from Evan Roquemore made it a six-point game, it looked like Santa Clara might take advantage.
That is until the Gaels found the hole in the defense.
Saint Mary’s found Levesque uncontested four times in the next three minutes and he hit all four treys, with the last one rimming in, giving the Gaels a 31-16 lead.
“They left him open and he made it,” Bennett said. “A lot of people play us that way, they leave our four open and he made them pay.”
Levesque hopes that trend continues but thinks his team has the answer if that does happen.
“If they do it just leaves [Dellavedova] wide open,” Levesque said. “If we’re hitting shots, we’re a tough team to beat.”
The Broncos got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“[Dellavedova] was good defensively but he wasn’t the only guy,” Bennett said. “We had a couple of guys who didn’t play great offensively but were there for us defensively. That’s what you go to do to win on the road.”
Stephen Holt and Jordan Giusti made life difficult for Kevin Foster. The senior guard, who is averaging more than 20 points per game in conference play, was hounded all night by Holt and Giusti and was given no easy shot.
He missed his first five shots and even missed his first two from the free throw line. Foster had eight points in the first half on 2-for-9 shooting and dished out four assists.
Foster finished with 10 points.