by Michael Vernetti
At the 5:16 mark of a stunningly lop-sided Saint Mary’s romp over San Francisco Thursday night — 79-43 — Souley Boum, the Dons’ leading scorer at 13.5 PPG coming into the game, made his first bucket of the game, a three-pointer.
Boum’s bucket was not only indicative of the Dons’ overall ineffectiveness, it was interesting because of who was responsible for keeping him off the books until the contest was long decided — Gael guard Emmett Naar. Naar doesn’t usually draw the assignment of guarding an opposing team’s top scorer, but he handled Boum easily until he (Naar) went to the bench at the astonishingly early point of 9:25 left in the game.
Gael Coach Randy Bennett certainly knew that Boum was a dangerous scorer, but he also knew that Boum’s back-court mate, Frankie Ferrari, was the engine that makes the San Francisco offense run. So, Bennett put his defensive ace, Jordan Ford, on Ferrari, and the combination of Naar and Ford held Boum to five points and Ferrari to four, although Ferrari matched his season’s average for assists with four.
No one on the Dons scored in double digits, as their other leading scorers, Jordan Ratinho and Chase Foster, both averaging around 10 PPG, were held to eight and seven points, respectively. The only thing that saved the Dons from the embarrassment of failing to score at least 40 points was two late-game three-pointers by subs Erik Poulsen, 1-4 overall, and Remu Raitanen, 1-3 for the game. The Dons shot a woeful 32% for the game, including 25% from three-point land.
Comparison with Gonzaga effort
By comparison, in battling Gonzaga to a nine-point loss last week in Spokane, San Francisco shot 50% overall and from three-point land. Foster, Ferrari and Ratinho all scored in double figures, and, more surprising, Dons’ 6-9 center Matt McCarthy, over- matched by the Gaels’ 6-11 Jock Landale, managed 10 points against Gonzaga on 4-7 shooting. McCarthy was 0-7 against the Gaels.
Gonzaga followed up that lackluster effort against San Francisco with another ho-hum home win last night, 69-59 over San Diego. The Toreros came back from a big deficit to lead 50-48 in the second half, then made another run to close within 51-50 before succumbing down the stretch.
This is not to say that the Gaels are home free for the rest of the season, but recent results do suggest that Saint Mary’s is tightening its defense at the right time and Gonzaga is failing to dominate teams as it did earlier in the season. The Gaels, of course, have still to face Gonzaga one more time (Feb. 10) at home, and also must take on San Diego Saturday on the Toreros’ home court. That is never a fun assignment.
Speaking of Landale
The Gaels’ offense against San Francisco revolved around Landale, who finished with 26 points (11-17 shooting), 12 rebounds and three assists. He showed San Francisco both sides of his game, assist-maker Landale in the first half and shot-maker Landale in the second. He also threw in a little razzle-dazzle just to keep the Abdul Jabaar Award judges interested.
Landale had about 20 touches in the first half, give or take a few re-posts, but shot only seven times, making four. On the other touches, he passed out to willing shooters, none more willing than Tanner Krebs, who sank four-of-five three-pointers. Calvin Hermanson chipped in with two three-pointers, as did Evan Fitzner. That amounted to eight made three-pointers, which the Gaels didn’t add to in the second half, going 0-7 from distance. It hardly mattered.
Figuring San Francisco would abandon its fruitless effort to double-team Landale, Saint Mary’s fed him relentlessly after the half-time break. The Gaels’ first 10 possessions of the second half involved feeding Landale in the post, and he responded with a variety of moves to score seven times (including one possession ending in two free throws). Showing he was getting bored by scoring on routine over-the-shoulder hooks, Landale attempted a reverse lay-up at one point that came up a bit short. But he was just getting warmed up.
On the Gaels’ nest possession, Landale received a pass at the top of the key, and indicated he would do what he almost always does — hand off the ball to Naar. Except he didn’t, keeping his dribble alive and driving the lane for a thundering dunk and a 56-30 lead with 11:30 left in the game. It is probably over-dramatic to say that play broke the spirit of San Francisco, but it certainly didn’t cheer ’em up. A few minutes later, they had scored nine points in the half’s first 11 minutes.
Landale stuck around for one more lay-up off a Naar feed, then joined the rest of the starters on the bench. A second unit composed of Jordan Hunter at the five, Jock Perry at the four, Elijah Thomas at the three, Cullen Neal at the point and Tommy Kuhse at the two pushed a 62-30 lead to the final margin of 79-43 over the last six minutes or so — a 17-13 advantage over most of San Francisco’s starters.
Hunter, the athletic 6-10 junior who has been tantalizing Gael fans with his promise but disappointing them with his mixed results for three years, made the most of his extensive time on the floor. He scored on all three of his shot attempts — including a rousing dunk off a lob by Neal — grabbed four rebounds and kept several possessions alive by swatting out misses to the Gael guards.
Rehearsal for next year?
It would not be fanciful to consider Hunter’s late-season resurgence — he has showed more patience and tempered his fouling in several recent games — as a rehearsal for next year when Landale is gone. The Gaels will have an intriguing selection of big men to succeed Landale, including incoming recruit Mattias Tass from Estonia. Returning besides Hunter is the 7-1 Perry, who has been showcasing his three-point prowess in recent late-game appearances.
Hunter could be considered the logical choice to take Landale’s starting position, as he has considerably more experience than the redshirt freshman Perry and Tass will be a freshman. These are all decisions for another day, however, as the Gaels are laser-focused on finishing the WCC season, WCC Tournament and, they fervently hope, the NCAA Tournament to follow that.
For that ride, they will rest comfortably on the shoulders of the original Jock, Mr. Landale.
Jordan Hunter, shown above in a 2016 intra-squad game, has impressed Gael fans with his scoring, defense and rebounding in several recent late-game appearances. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.