MORAGA, CA–If San Francisco is involved you can beat the game came down to the final minute and Saturday was no different.
The Dons erased a 10-point Saint Mary’s lead only to see the Gaels take it back in the second half behind Matthew Dellavedova’s game-high 19 points and hold on for the 78-72 West Coast Conference win.
“We know it was going to be a tough game,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said. “We had a little lapse in the [first] half defensively where we were up 10 and had a chance to separate more and we didn’t and they put on a run. We have to get better not having runs like that.”
“We have to get better at managing those situations.”
Saint Mary’s (13-4, 2-1 WCC) gets back into the win column and extends its win streak over San Francisco to 15 games, dating back to 2006.
The Gaels trailed by one at the half and Dellavedova came out on determined to erase that lead. He scored five quick points and gave Saint Mary’s the 42-36 lead.
“I thought he played better,” Bennett said. “Especially, when I I thought that game was tight, that’s second half he really willed us to win.”
They would not trail again.
The Gaels led 54-52 when James Walker III hit a free throw line jumper on a broken play to put them up by four. The basket was soon followed by baskets from Stephen Holt and Mitchell Young gave Saint Mary’s some breathing room at 63-55.
San Francisco guard Cody Doolin tried to bring the Dons back and a pair of free throws put USF within four. Doolin finished with a team-high 16 points.
That is when the free throw parade began.
Young, like he did against Harvard two weeks ago, hit clutch fre throws to keep Saint Mary’s up for good.
San Francisco (7-10, 0-4) has now lost nine of its last 11 games, with eight of the losses coming by 10 or fewer points, and remains winless in conference.
Cole Dickerson was held to eight points and six rebounds and it was only the second time this season he did not get double figures in either the rebounding or points category.
Saint Mary’s jumped on San Francisco early in the first half and used layups from Matt Hodgson and Dellevedova to go up 24-14. Beau Levesque, who has continued to be a consistent source of energy for the Gaels, had 11 points in the first half.
But much as they have done all year, the Dons climbed back into the game and they did it behind the bench.
De’End Parker and Matt Christiansen led the bench, which scored 19 points in the half, and pushed USF back within stiking distance. But it was Tim Derksen who got the Dons on top with a three from the left corner to put USF up 36-33.
USF led at the half 36-35.
Dellavedova said the time is now for Saint Mary’s to play its best but realizes they still have plenty of room for improvement.
“We can’t wait until the end of conference to really decide to dig in. I think we’ve made that decision. We didn’t play well in the first half, at the end of the first half at Gonzaga but in the second half we really fought hard. If we can keep working hard in practice and trying to execute in games… I think we’ve got room to grow and improve as the season continues.”
Parker came off the bench for the second straight game and played under control, just like Walters had wanted. He scored 15 points and hit a three at the buzzer to end the game.
Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @Zack_Farmer