by Michael Vernetti
There was a time when Saint Mary’s-BYU was a marquee match-up. At 5-0 in the Gaels’ favor over the past two seasons, those match-ups seem far behind us.
The Gaels’ methodical 75-62 win over BYU Thursday night to give them a 9-0 first-half record in the WCC was of a type: BYU couldn’t stop the Emmett Naar-to-Jock Landale combo, and they don’t have the firepower of past seasons to make up for what their defense gives up.
They are opportunistic and play hard, and can punish opponents who give up turnovers or fail to get back on defense. but can’t keep consistent pressure on their opponents. The Gaels looked to be rolling towards a 20-point win with about six minutes left in the first half when Jordan Ford drove the lane and scored on a lay-up to push the score to 31-21.
The Gaels faltered at that point, however, as Landale and Ford found both of themselves guarding BYU’s TJ Haws, allowing Haws to find Yoeli Childs underneath for an easy bucket. There followed a lazy pass by Evan Fitzner that went off Calvin Hermanson’s hands, a Ford foul on Jahshire Hardnett on the baseline, Hermanson losing Elijah Bryant on a drive in the paint, and suddenly it was 31-25.
The Gaels recovered momentarily when Hermanson found Landale underneath for a slam, pushing the lead to 33-25, but that failed to stem the tide. Ford committed a turnover on a bad pass out of penetration, Hermanson drew a charge, Haws was left alone in the corner after Landale blocked his lay-up attempt, and drained the three-pointer for his first points of the game.
Throw in a five-second violation on an in-bounds play and another Bryant drive and score, and the Gaels’ seemingly comfortable 10-point cushion turned into a 33-30 halftime lead. ESPN announcer Sean Farnham declared that BYU had the momentum going into the break, and the Gaels’ play starting the second half seemed to bear him out.
Poor start to second half
Bryant drove Hermanson to start the half, narrowing the lead to one point, then Naar committed a turnover and Haws scored over Hermanson, who was having a rough game. That put BYU up 34-33, a free throw made it 35-33, then Naar sank a floater in the lane to bring the Gaels even at 35-all. Naar, who left the court briefly in the first half after turning his left ankle trying to guard Haws, then was beaten by Haws off the dribble and BYU went ahead 37-35.
With the score standing at 39-37 in BYU’s favor, Ford sank a corner three-pointer that seemed to energize the Gaels. Naar followed the Ford three-pointer with a beautiful drive in the lane, then Tanner Krebs sank another corner three-pointer to give the Gaels a 45-39 lead and an 8-0 run. Gael Coach Randy Bennett then moved Naar off Haws in favor of Krebs, but left Naar as the only guard on the floor for most of the second half.
For those who were worried about Naar’s gimpy ankle, he gave a clinic in point guard play from that point on. The capper came as the clock wound down on a Gael possession, and BYU fell into the trap of doubling Naar in hopes of forcing him into a turnover. Instead, Naar found Landale outside the three-point line and Landale brought the sellout crowd to its feet with a three-pointer — his first of the season.
Naar and Landale went back to their usual repertoire of lobs and inside passes leading to bunnies, continuing a stretch in which Landale scored nine straight points. To put the dagger solidly in BYU’s heart, Fitzner sank a corner three-pointer at the 4:10 mark to move the Gaels ahead 66-56 and alert BYU’s bus driver to start the engine. All that was left was to see how many assists and points Naar and Landale would accumulate — it ended with 32 points for Landale and 12 assists for Naar.
Cause for concern
Gael fans who look for signs of trouble could point to lackluster efforts by Hermanson and Ford. Hermanson fouled out after consistently failing to guard Bryant effectively and going 1-4 on three-point attempts for a mere five points. Ford made the big three-pointer to stem BYU’s momentum in the second half, but was just 1-5 from distance and also scored just five points.
Bennett signaled his displeasure with Ford by benching him for most of the second half as Naar took total control of the offense. At times like this it seems Ford is having trouble finding a role for himself on offense. He continues to be the Gaels’ best perimeter defender, but can’t consistently find an offensive rhythm. After giving Cullen Neal a few minutes to shine in the first half, which Neal did with a three-pointer and a circus reverse lay-up off a run-out, Bennett decided against possible cardiac arrhythmia by keeping the mercurial Neal on the bench for the second half.
As long as Naar and Landale continue to control games almost by themselves, Gael players who give less-than-stellar efforts are going to have a hard time.
Emmett Naar, shown above scoring in an earlier game, scored 13 points and dished out 12 assists to lead the Gaels past BYU. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.