MORAGA, Calif.—The Saint Mary’s postseason hopes came down to their matchup with Creighton and the Gaels didn’t miss the opportunity.
Saint Mary’s used a big first half run and stellar defense to stymy the vaunted Creighton offense and win the ESPN Bracketbuster game 74-66 on Saturday afternoon.
The win over Creighton gave the Gaels (24-5) their first win over a team with an RPI in the top-50 and the resume win many believe Saint Mary’s was missing.
“There’s still some work to do but it certainly helps,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said of the win over Creighton. “They’re kind of a sexy team. They’ve got a sexy name. They’ve been ranked 16 weeks in the Top 25. One of the best players in the country on their name. People recognize that’s a good win.”
Saint Mary’s had needed someone other than Matthew Dellavedova to step up in big games and they finally got it with Brad Waldow. The sophomore center scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, including nine defensive rebounds, for his fourth career double-double.
“He played with a lot of toughness tonight, just boxing out and really getting after the ball,” Dellavedova said. “That’s what we need from him and it’s great for him to do it today.”
Saint Mary’s entered the second half with a 14-point lead and after a jumper from Mitchell Young put the Gaels up by 16 but then Creighton (22-7) went inside to their big man Gregory Echenique. He scored the first seven points of the half for the Bluejays and helped them cut the lead to 43-39.
Echenique finished with 18 points.
But then Saint Mary’s fired back.
Dellavedova hit a three and, after an errant pass by Creighton, Waldow hit a fastbreak layup and was fouled. He made the free throw to give the Gaels a 49-34 lead.
“We played a little freer tonight,” Bennett said. “The pressure of playing in league just eats at you. It’s wearing but that’s how it is for everybody. Today for us it was a refreshing game.”
Creighton rallied a number of times but could get no closer than eight the rest of the way.
All-American candidate Doug McDermott had a good first half but Saint Mary’s turned up the defense on him in the second. The junior scored 22 points on 7-for-18 shooting with 13 of his points coming in the first half.
“We knew he’s obviously key to that team,” Dellavedova said. “Mitch [Young] did a great job on him after the start, Waldow stepped up and played some good D on him… They knew it was going to be a tough cover and they were up for the challenge.”
Dellavedova had 19 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists. His 19th point tied him with Saint Mary’s great Omar Samhan for second on the school’s all-time scoring list. Dellavedova is now 28 points behind Daniel Kickert for first on the scoring list.
Saint Mary’s came out like a team that was ready for March.
The Gaels traded baskets with Creighton early on but with Saint Mary’s holding a 9-8 lead, they found an offensive rhythm. Seven Saint Mary’s players each scored a basket in the team’s first seven shots and the Gaels took an 18-11 lead on a hook shot from oft-used Kyle Rowley.
McDermott tried to bring Creighton back into the game. He hit back-to-back baskets to cut the Saint Mary’s lead to 26-20 but then the ball landed in the hands of Dellavedova and the senior hit a three from the top of the key to push the lead back to nine.
McDermott had 13 of the team’s 24 first half points.
Saint Mary’s closed the half on an 8-0 run with all of the scoring coming from Waldow and Dellavedova. Dellavedova had 10 points and four assists in the half.
Waldow grabbed nine rebounds in the first half to go along with seven points.
The Bluejays were outrebounded 26-13 in the first half.
Creighton, who came into the game as the nation’s most efficient offensive team, shot 29 percent in the first half. There were also beaten up on the boards.
Looking forward to the challenge
Waldow relished the opportunity to guard McDermott, which he did many times in the second half, including some time out on the perimeter.
“For me, I’m just a competitor and I just like guarding the best players at the position,” Waldow said. “It’s a great opportunity to do that.”
Entering the game…
Creighton RPI: 47
Saint Mary’s RPI: 49
Saint Mary’s: 2-3 record in Bracketbusters and had lost last two (Murray State, Utah State).