SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP)—Diamon Simpson shot free throw after free throw until 1 a.m. Monday, his typical routine before a game day. And he’s certainly glad he took the extra practice.
Campus public safety opens up the gym for him and teammate Omar Samhan sometime around 11:30 p.m.
Simpson made two free throws with 24.4 seconds left to give Saint Mary’s the lead and finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, and the 25th-ranked Gaels survived a scare to beat Santa Clara 54-50 on Monday night.
“I always do, and it paid off,” Simpson said. “It worked out.”
Brody Angley missed a short baseline jumper with 6 seconds to play and Tron Smith converted both free throws on the other end. Smith finished with 15 points off the bench in the Gaels’ fourth straight victory, a much closer contest than their 31-point rout of Santa Clara last month.
Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating called a second straight timeout with 1 minute left after his team couldn’t get anything going, then John Bryant stepped on the baseline at the 54.6 mark and Saint Mary’s got the ball back. Bryant fouled Simpson on the other end moments later.
Smith, one of two seniors on the Saint Mary’s roster, shot 4-for-5 from the field and 5-of-8 at the line for the Gaels (21-3, 8-1 WCC). Saint Mary’s beat the Broncos 76-45 in Moraga on Jan. 12 in the WCC opener for both teams that ended the Gaels’ three-game losing streak in the series.
“Man, that’s a good win. Whew,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “They smashed us on the boards. Good thing we defended. I thought we did a really good job down the stretch defensively.”
Bryant posted his WCC-best 11th double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Broncos (12-11, 4-4), including a tying jumper that tied the game at 47 with 6:02 left. Angley gave Santa Clara its first lead of the night with one free throw at 4:31.
Bryant had a turnover that led to Patty Mills’ go-ahead basket with 2:23 to play, but hit two tying free throws at 1:52.
“I’m disappointed John doesn’t get the respect he deserves,” said Keating, who planned to review film of Bryant’s late turnover on the baseline. “They beat him up all game and shove him off the block.”
The 6-foot-11 Samhan beat Bryant baseline for a layin with 17:05 to play for his first points, then came out of the game moments later with a left shoulder injury. He said afterward his bruised shoulder was sore but not serious.
Mills finished with nine points, but went 0-for-3 from 3-point range to put him at 2-for-21 in his last five games—including 0-of-13 combined in his last three.
Others picked up the slack.
“Like we’ve been saying all year long, we’ve got a lot of players and a lot of depth,” Smith said. “I’ve been struggling a little lately with my jump shot but I’m always confident. Any time we need a basket, I will step up and shoot it.”
Saint Mary’s is in the rankings for three consecutive weeks for the first time since 1988-89, albeit staying put in the 25th and final spot for the second straight week after a showing of 21st in the previous poll.
The Gaels thumped San Francisco 76-51 on Saturday to reach 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.
The team is on a roll since losing at San Diego 63-55 on Jan. 28 after getting back into the rankings at No. 21.
“This is our biggest road game so far,” Simpson said. “We learned from the San Diego game when we got down how to fight back.”
The Broncos have had some tough breaks in Keating’s first season. Aside from this one, they had an 87-82 double-overtime defeat against Gonzaga on Feb. 2.
A crowd of 3,722 at the Leavey Center turned out for the nationally televised contest, with Australian fans in this arena cheering for Ben Dowdell. Several students waved the country’s flag to cheer on the Aussie freshman. Saint Mary’s also has four Australian players, including Mills. Dowdell had eight points.
Angley, who reached the 1,000-point mark last week, had 11 points and seven rebounds.
“It’s frustrating because we have chances to win,” Keating said. “We made the defensive adjustments but we put ourselves in too big a hole in a low-possession game.”