MORAGA, Calif. (AP)—Randy Bennett counted on Saint Mary’s much-improved depth carrying this team. It just so happens his Gaels are headed for one of the best seasons in school history and everybody is taking part.
Yusef Smith came off the bench to score a career-high 15 points and the 25th-ranked Gaels reached the 20-win mark with a 76-51 victory against Eddie Sutton’s San Francisco squad Friday night.
Omar Samhan had 12 points and nine rebounds, Patty Mills added 10 points and five steals and Diamon Simpson 10 points, four boards and three steals as Saint Mary’s won its third straight on the heels of an 89-85 victory over Gonzaga in an overtime thriller Monday night.
“We don’t want to lose coming off an emotional win like that,” Smith said. “The most important thing is just to keep winning. We can’t have any letdowns. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot night in and night out.”
Simpson scored the first four points of a 12-0 run out of halftime by the Gaels (20-3, 7-1 WCC), who downed the Dons for the ninth time in the last 10 meetings and fifth in a row.
Saint Mary’s will stay in the rankings for three consecutive weeks for the first time since 1988-89. The Gaels play at Santa Clara on Monday night. Smith shot 5-for-8 and had 12 of his points in the first half. He also had five rebounds.
“We have three awesome scorers in Diamon, Omar and Patty,” Smith said. “When they’re not on one night, other guys pick up the slack. My role is basically to defend and rebound. If I’m out there and have an open shot, I’m going to take it.”
Todd Golden, the co-West Coast Conference Player of the Week, followed his 19-point performance—including 6-for-6 from 3-point range—with six points and five assists. He also earned his 79th win, the most by any player in school history.
Tron Smith had 12 points and five rebounds as the Gaels reached 20 wins for the eighth time overall and fourth since joining the WCC in 1952. Saint Mary’s got to the 20-victory mark the fastest since the 1988-89 team also did so after just 23 games on the way to 25 victories and an NCAA tournament berth.
“It’s a tribute to these kids. They don’t let up,” Bennett said. “They keep things in perspective. They do what you preach as a coach. They play every minute right. As a coach, it’s a great feeling never worrying if these kids are going to be ready to play.”
After his team jumped to a big lead, Bennett had a chance to rest the regulars and go deep down his bench. Many members of the crowd called it a night with 2:45 remaining, heading for the exits.
Dior Lowhorn had 22 points and 11 rebounds and Danny Cavic added 10 points for the Dons (6-17, 2-6), who won Feb. 2 at Pepperdine to give interim coach Sutton his 800th career victory. Saint Mary’s recognized Sutton’s accomplishment with an announcement of congratulations before pregame introductions. He is 2-9 since taking over Dec. 26 for the remainder of the season in place of Jessie Evans.
USF has dropped two straight since then with a schedule that only gets tougher. The Dons are home for three games starting Monday, but the first two are against the other two top WCC teams—San Diego and Gonzaga. That gives USF the three best teams in the league in three straight contests.
Sutton still believes if his team executes more consistently the Dons will have a chance.
“They just spurted out and I don’t think we scored the first four minutes of the second half,” Sutton said. “We had dead spots, dead periods. We’re playing without a true point guard, and that makes a lot of difference when you’re trying to get in your offensive set.”
Saint Mary’s shot 13-for-17 from the free throw line to only 5-of-9 by USF, which held a 33-32 rebounding advantage.
Representatives of the Australian Consulate from San Francisco were in attendance at sold-out McKeon Pavilion, where a blowup kangaroo sat in among the students and 3-year-old Tate Lemmer waved an Australian flag courtside like many others in the gym.
Saint Mary’s has four Australians on the roster, including Mills. Carlin Hughes and Lucas Walker give the Gaels key minutes off the bench and center Ben Allen is redshirting this season after transferring from Indiana.
Fans chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!” each time an Australian player scores.
Saint Mary’s made 10 of its first 19 shots. After the Dons pulled within 16-13 on a basket by Lowhorn, the Gaels went on a 12-3 run on the way to a 44-29 halftime lead. They shot 59 percent with four 3s.
After a game in which the Dons were 43 percent from the field, Sutton asked his team for suggestions about how to become more productive on the offensive end.
“I have a term read and react,” he said. “The defense determines what you do offensively. You have to read and react to the situation and we have a hard time doing that.”