SAN FRANCISCO–Every time Saint Mary’s needed a basket or big play, Jorden Page was there.
Page hit two clutch free throws with four seconds left as Saint Mary’s fought off a relentless comeback from USF and was able to weather the storm to come away with the 67-63 West Coast Conference win over San Francisco Wednesday night.
“I told our guys at halftime… these guys are in the situation they always get back into the game,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said. “That’s exactly how the San Diego game went when they played them here. They got it down to a one possession game, which they did here. Fortunately, [Page] hit those two free throws.”
The Gaels (18-4, 7-1 WCC) are riding a season-high six-game winning streak and won a 16th straight game against USF, dating back to 2006.
Saint Mary’s went into the second half up by 14 and traded baskets with USF (9-13, 2-7) for much of the half.
After baskets from Cody Doolin and Frank Rogers cut the Saint Mary’s lead to 52-41, Brad Waldow scored five straight points and gave the Gaels a 16 point lead, their largest of the night. But USF snatched the momentum right back.
Avry Holmes hit a three and Tim Derksen converted on a fastbreak layup to cut the lead back to 11. On the ensuing Saint Mary’s possession, Derksen picked the pocket of Jorden Page and his layup put USF within nine for the first time since the first half.
Following two free throws from Dellavedova, De’End Parker hit a layup and was fouled to cut the lead to eight. USF seemed to have the momentum.
Page hit a three with the shot clock expiring with 3:31 left and it seemed to suck the air out of the building.
USF continued to battle back and cut into the lead and then Parker took control. He hit two free throws to cut the lead to 63-57 and, after two missed free throws from Stephen Holt, hit a three from the right corner to make it a three-point game with 16.1 seconds left.
“We knew at halftime they were going to come out with a flurry and try to make runs,” Holt said. “We knew they were going to get after it and at times I thought we matched it in the second half and then in the last two minutes we didn’t match it.”
Holt entered the game as a 81 percent free throw shooter and Saint Mary’s shot 16-for-26 from the line.
Saint Mary’s broke the USF press and James Walker III got a layup to put the Gaels up by five but less than two seconds later, Derksen was at the other end for a layup of his own and hit a free throw to make it a two-point game with 6.1 seconds left.
Page was fouled almost immediately and sent to the line where he hit both to seal the contest.
USF has been close in both attempts against the Gaels this season, losing by a combined nine points but Rex Walters does not believe in moral victories for his bunch.
We played with an aggressiveness that we need to play with all the time,” Walters said. “ i thought we played with less regard for our body [in the second half]. That’s just a physically tough team.”
Saint Mary’s outrebounded USF 44 to 22 and the Gaels were led by Holt, who had a career-high 14 boards. Cole Dickerson had 11 rebounds to go with his nine points.
The Saint Mary’s defense continually made it difficult for Doolin and Dickerson to get easy shots. Despite that, Doolin finished with 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting and no turnovers.
Matthew Dellavedova, who had 21 assists without a turnover in his last two games, committed three turnovers in the first half. Dellavedova scored nine points on Wednesday and is now eight points away from passing David Vann for third on the Saint Mary’s all-time scoring list (1,738).
He is also only 143 points from catching Daniel Kickert for first on the list and if he continues on his season average of 16.4 points per game, Dellavedova should pass Kickert at home against Santa Clara in the regular season finale.
Mitchell Young went 5-for-5 from the line against USF and since Dec. 31 is shooting 90 percent from the line.
Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @Zack_Farmer