Dons don’t do it

Emmett Naar missed a free throw with 3:18 to go in the first half of the Gaels’ 74-52 defeat of San Francisco Monday night in Moraga.

That constitutes news, since it was the only thing he missed during an exquisite half of college basketball. Naar’s first-half line — 13 points, 6 assists, a steal, a few rebounds — doesn’t adequately reflect what the angelic-looking Aussie did to the Dons.

Some highlights: Naar began the scoring by going over the top of the Dons’ defense with a pass to Dane Pineau that Pineau converted for a lay-up; on the ensuing Dons’ possession, he stole the ball from Dons’ postman Dant’e Reynolds, setting up a pick and pop to Evan Fitzner, who  buried a trey; a little later, Naar dropped off a beautiful pass to Joe Rahon for another lay-up.

Then he got serious. Naar, who entered the game leading all U.S. college players with a 69.4% three-point average, sank his first three-pointer of the night at the 15:35 mark, followed with another two minutes later and nailed a third with 9:42 to go. In between, he went over the top again, this time to Jock  Landale and Landale easily converted.

On the possession after his third trey, Naar rifled a pass to Landale behind the back of the hapless Dons’ defender for another easy lay-up.

“Great court recognition on that play,” noted Comcast TV announcer Barry Tompkins. “The ball traveled 60 feet without ever touching the floor.”

Naar finished off the half with a driving lay-up as the shot clock ran down at the 4:38 mark, worked a give-and-go with Pineau for a lay-up 30 seconds later and ended things by dropping an artful dime on Pineau for a lay-up to make it 43-28 Gaels.

Naar didn’t sit out the second half but he didn’t score again either, settling for another two assists to make his total eight. He did miss his only three-point attempt of the night, giving him a 3-4 game and raising his season mark to an even 70%.

Emmett Naar serves as an extension of Gaels coach Randy Bennett on the floor. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.

Of course, the other Gael players contributed significantly to the beat-down of the Dons. Fitzner finished the night with a game-high 20 points on 6-11 shooting, and Rahon ended with 14 points, five assists and no turnovers. Rahon also had primary responsibility for stopping Dons’ leading scorer Devin Watson, who entered the game averaging more than 18 PPG.

By doggedly refusing to allow Watson to penetrate the lane, Rahon helped hold him to a 2-12 night and eight points. Multiple Gaels ganged up on Watson’s back court mate Tim Derksen to hold him to a miserable 1-13 evening. Thus, the Dons’ back court, which had been contributing heavily to their overall offense, totaled only 10 points out of 52.

Looking ahead

It looks to be a long season for the Dons, who have virtually no half-court game unless Watson breaks down the defense and penetrates the lane. When the Gaels prevented that, the Dons resorted to sprinting down court whenever they got their hands on the ball, with frantic coach Rex Walters running alongside exhorting them onward. Walters knew their only chance was to get down court before the Gaels set up on defense, but that tactic was only marginally successful.

With no consistent three-point shooting (7-21 for the night) and no height, Walters’ options are extremely limited with his current squad. Saint Mary’s, who will not be mistaken for Kentucky by anyone, blocked eight San Francisco shots.

On Wednesday, the Gaels take to the road for only the second time this season, heading to Santa Clara to face a Broncos squad that may be even less threatening than San Francisco. They follow with a laugher against Utah Valley (they lost to Southern Utah, whom the Gaels beat by a smooth 56 points last week) on Dec. 28, then end the year with their first real conference competition — a New Year’s Eve date with BYU in Moraga.

Naar and Rahon made a statement about powerful WCC back courts with their dominance over the Dons’ Watson and Derksen. Naar, in fact, may be emerging as the best guard in the league, and he is helping push his teammates to a position of challenging Gonzaga for league supremacy.

Stay tuned.

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