by Michael Vernetti
Because there was no consistent theme in Saint Mary’s 62-50 win over Pacific Thursday night, it might be useful to view the game in four distinct sections — we’ll call them acts.
Act I (30-11).
This was by far the best of the night, as the Gaels looked like a team anxious to show they had recovered from Saturday’s dispiriting loss to Gonzaga. Crisp passing, tight defense and lights-out three-point shooting distinguished the ensemble. Evan Fitzner, the Gaels on-again, off-again star, wasted no time in burying a three-pointer from the corner on the Gaels’ first possession. Alas, this opening salvo was his last offensive contribution of the game.
There followed a three-pointer from Joe Rahon and two in a row by Calvin Hermanson, giving the Gaels a quick 14-5 lead. Dane Pineau, subbing for Fitzner with about seven minutes gone, made the Gaels first two-point basket, followed by a tip-in from Jock Landale, and another lay-up by Pineau after a perfect dime courtesy of Landale. That made it 20-9 and memories of the slaughter at Portland (74-32) began to emerge.
The merriment continued, as Naar and Tanner Krebs, subbing for Hermanson, each made three-pointers and Naar sank a floater in the lane for a 30-11 lead with 6:30 left in the half. All was well in Gael-land, except Pacific didn’t feel like playing the foil to a Saint Mary’s tour de force.
Act II (5-19).
It could be easy to say the second act resurgence by Pacific was fueled primarily by a tight zone defense. That’s a bit simplistic because 1) Pacific had switched into and out of a zone throughout the early Gael barrage; and 2) Saint Mary’s contributed to the Pacific run with poor play that had nothing to do with zones.
Case in point: Landale missed a bunny after a perfect lob from Rahon, the first of four easy misses throughout the night that kept him at 10 points when he could have had 18. Pineau suddenly forgot how to defend without fouling, allowing Pacific’s Ray Bowles to score in the paint and sink a free throw after Pineau fouled him. Pineau would continue to be foul-prone, eventually receiving four and a seat on the bench in the second half.
Hermanson, who had looked unstoppable in the early going, missed a wide-open three-pointer, then stepped out of bounds on the next possession, with Pacific scoring after each miscue. A jumper by Pacific star T.J. Wallace after Hermanson forgot about the sideline boundary marked a 10-0 run that cut the lead to 30-21.
On the next possession, Pacific’s Tonko Vuko, who has a great name but a balky back that has hampered him recently, waltzed down the paint and sank a lay-up that made the score a worrisome 30-23. At that point, Saint Mary’s had gone approximately four minutes without scoring. Rahon thankfully ended the bleeding with a three-pointer to move the Gaels’ lead to 33-23, but the Gaels quickly gave most of that back by allowing Wallace another jumper to cut the lead to 33-25, where it stood at halftime. Pacific had pulled off a tidy 14-3 run, and they weren’t finished.
The second half began with a Pineau miss, followed by another missed bunny by Landale. Pineau scored off a nice feed by Naar, then failed to establish proper position on Pacific’s Jacob Lampkin, giving up a bucket and a foul. Rahon contributed a turnover to the sloppy play, then Landale missed back-to-back cripples, allowing Pacific to creep within five points at 35-30.
Act III (17-4)
The Gael comeback began at the 16:00 minute mark when Hermanson sank a three-pointer to push the lead back to eight. This run could be called “Calvin’s Revenge,” as he shortly made another three-pointer, then drove the lane and drew a foul. He converted one of two free throws to cap a personal 7-0 campaign.
His teammates decided to join the fun, as Landale finally straightened out his aim and converted a perfect lob from Rahon, then rebounded a miss to score again. Rahon sank a three-pointer off a nice feed from Naar, then Krebs struck again with a three-pointer to give the Gaels their largest lead at 52-34. It marked a 17-4 run that decided the contest.
In true Shakespearean fashion, Saint Mary’s made Act III the night’s climax, leaving only weak back-and-forth sallies in Act IV to run out the final 7:35. It wasn’t the Gaels’ greatest triumph by any means, but it served to right the ship and perhaps begin another win streak that will allow for a strong finish to the season.
Odds and ends
A few tidbits from the evening:
Ford in sweats. No announcement was made, no hints were dropped by the Gael staff, but Jordan Ford showed up for the game wearing sweat pants and top instead of a uniform. He displayed no obvious limp, but fans will have to wait and see what kept him on the sideline. It is ironic that Ford’s absence came just as Gael Coach Randy Bennett seems to be conceding that Naar is suffering from injury himself. For the second straight game, Bennett benched Naar in both the first and second halves, limiting him to 29 minutes following 27 minutes against Gonzaga. Krebs has benefited from Naar’s diminished floor time, logging 14 minutes against Pacific following 17 minutes against Gonzaga.
Jet junior. It probably escaped most fans’ attention, but one Pacific basket in the first half was scored by freshman K.J. Smith from Thousand Oaks, CA. Smith, who attended IMG Academy, a post-graduation prep school, along with Mater Dei and Oaks Christian, is the son of Kenny “The Jet” Smith, host of ESPN’s Inside the NBA. His first-half bucket was his only score of the night, but Pacific has bigger plans for him in the future.
Reyes returns. Gael fans will recognize one member of the Pepperdine squad that comes to McKeon Pavilion on Saturday night — former recruit Chris Reyes. Reyes came to Saint Mary’s in 2012 as a highly-touted forward out of Damien High School in LaVerne, CA, but encountered academic troubles and eventually left the team. He rebounded with a strong season at Citrus College, which earned him a scholarship to Utah. He started for the NCAA-bound Utes as a sophomore, then spent his junior year mainly on the bench. After completing his undergraduate degree last summer, he enrolled at Pepperdine as a graduate transfer with one year of eligibility remaining. He has flourished at Pepperdine, averaging 15.6 PPG, second on the team behind explosive scorer Lamond Murray, Jr. who is averaging 21.9 PPG.
As he has in many big games this year, Calvin Hermanson provided scoring and defense in the win over Pacific, leading the Gaels in scoring with 17 points. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.