by Michael Vernetti
Izayah Maurihooho-Le’afa’s name was too big for the program — literally, they had to shrink the print to made it fit. That was tough on the printer.
His game was almost too big for Saint Mary’s, as he single-handedly obscured the memory of great perimeter defense two nights earlier against Cal. That was tough on the Gaels’ pride, although they survived to down Sac State 70-54 on a forgettable Monday night in Moraga.
Izzy — I’m going to call him that so I don’t have to reduce the print size — had six of Sac State’s first eight points in the game’s first four minutes, at which time his team was ahead 8-2 and Jordan Ford had committed two fouls trying to guard him. That sent Ford to the bench for most of the first half, where he hopefully contemplated the vagaries of college hoops success.
From defensive hero shutting down Cal’s highly-touted freshman guard Darius McNeill to bench warmer unable to corral an unheralded sophomore from New Zealand, Ford epitomized the Gaels’ frustration against the 1-7 Hornets. Ford and teammate Calvin Hermanson were unquestioned stars of the Gaels’ 74-63 win over Cal, accounting for 39 of their team’s points and playing stifling defense against two of Cal’s better players.
On Monday, they scored 13 points against Sac State, Hermanson falling from 4-7 three-point accuracy in Berkeley to 2-7 frustration on his home court. Hermanson wasn’t alone in failing to knock down wide-open three-pointers, as the Gaels were a putrid 2-13 from distance in the first half. They recovered somewhat in the second half to finish 7-26, a still-anemic 27%.
That inability to make three-pointers abetted Sac State’s swarming defense, which put two and sometimes three people around Jock Landale when the ball went inside to him. When Landale wasn’t turning the ball over, which he did eight times, he found open Gaels on the perimeter, but they didn’t connect with their usual accuracy.
Landale, fed by his chief accomplice Emmett Naar, persevered against the swarming Hornets to score a career-high 37 points on 14-20 shooting. Landale also pulled down 18 rebounds, setting him up for an ignominious triple-double if he had committed just two more turnovers.
For his part, Izzy stung the Gaels throughout the night, scoring 11 of his team’s 19 first-half points and 20 overall. Since he averaged fewer than 5 PPG in his freshman year and was averaging just 5.4 PPG this season, it may be assumed that Ford and other Gael defenders were daydreaming during the scouting report on the Hornets. It is finals week, after all, so maybe that accounted for some of the Saint Mary’s lassitude.
Distracted or not, Saint Mary’s must struggle through four more games in Moraga before beginning WCC play against Loyola Marymount at home on Dec. 28. This stretch, which also includes Seattle, UC-Irvine and UNC-Asheville, was supposed to be enlivened by a rematch with the once-formidable Dayton Flyers on Dec. 19. Dayton, an Atlantic 10 Conference contender when the Gaels beat them on their home court last year, has fallen to 3-4 this year, however, including a 72-69 loss to Hofstra.
Yes, Hofstra, a stop on the commuter line from Long Island to Manhattan, whose biggest victory besides Dayton was a 107-72 romp over Molloy College. Don’t ask.
Jock Landale, pictured above in a game from last season, had little trouble against an under-sized Sac State defense, scoring a career-high 37 points and pulling down 18 rebounds. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.