Saint Mary’s stalls Sutton at 799 wins with 79-57 win over USF
SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—Instead of getting his 800th victory on Saturday night, San Francisco coach Eddie Sutton got perhaps his one millionth humbling experience in basketball.
Patty Mills scored 24 points and led a breakaway second-half rally for Saint Mary’s in a 79-57 victory over the Dons, thwarting Sutton’s second attempt to reach the lofty milestone.
Though Sutton knows he’s not coaching a very talented team in what he swears is his last year in the sport, he cautiously hoped the Dons had learned enough from four relentless weeks of tough practices to have a chance against the powerful Gaels (17-2, 4-0 West Coast Conference), who seem likely to return to the Top 25 after their fifth consecutive win.
Instead, college hoops’ most overqualified interim coach watched with his head resting dispassionately on his hand as San Francisco regressed into old habits on both ends of the court, leading to a blowout loss.
“I was really disappointed, because I thought I had made a lot of strides,” Sutton said. “I thought we were way beyond most of that.”
Sutton dropped to 1-6 since taking over the San Francisco program late last month. The venerated 71-year-old coach left Oklahoma State two years ago with 798 career victories, and the Dons beat Portland last week to push the former Kentucky and Arkansas coach to the precipice of a milestone reached by only four Division I coaches.
But Sutton didn’t have a player who could guard Mills or stop a lengthy rally by the Gaels, who were 26th in the most recent poll. Saint Mary’s is off to its best start in conference play since 1989.
“I just wanted to make sure we weren’t part of the trivia question,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “It’s a strange situation, because he’s one of those coaches you look up to when you come into this business. You’re kind of rooting for him to get his 800th, but definitely not tonight.”
Omar Samhan had 18 points and 15 rebounds for the Gaels, who blew open a tight game with an 18-4 run midway through the first half. Mills, the Australian freshman point guard who has dazzled the West Coast this season, scored seven points and confidently directed the Gaels’ offense during the run, which eventually stretched to 30-8.
Mills, who wore a temporary tattoo of the Australian flag on his left bicep to commemorate Australia Day, impressed Sutton immensely.
“Watching tape on him, I thought he was probably a junior or senior,” Sutton said. “It’s hard to believe this is his first year in college basketball.”
Dior Lowhorn and Manny Quezada scored 19 points apiece for the Dons (5-14, 1-3), who still have plenty of chances to put Sutton with Bob Knight, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp and Jim Phelan as the only Division I coaches to win 800 games.
“I don’t think (the San Francisco players) were even thinking anything about that, and I certainly don’t bring it up,” Sutton said. “I assume they hear about it, but it’s not something we talk about. We just try to get better, and if you get better, you’re going to win some games.”
Only Knight has more wins among active coaches, though Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski could catch Sutton by the close of the season.
The Dons played Gonzaga tough on the road last Monday, but struggled in the second half of Sutton’s first try at 800. After falling to the conference’s two elite teams, San Francisco has a better shot at the milestone Monday night when Santa Clara (10-9) visits.
“We don’t have much time to get these things corrected,” Sutton said. “But I would think Monday night would be a better gauge of where we are than tonight.”