SAN DIEGO (AP)Mitchell Saxen had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Aidan Mahaney added 13 points for the No. 17 Saint Mary’s Gaels, who didn’t score in the last 7:05 yet held off hobbled but determined San Diego 62-59 Thursday night for their 14th win in 15 games.
The Gaels (23-5, 12-1 West Coast Conference), who lead Gonzaga atop the WCC with three games to play, went ahead 54-31 on a 3-pointer by Mahaney with 14:17 left but let the Toreros slowly get back into the game. The Gaels missed their final seven field goal attempts and 16 of their last 18 shots.
”Not very good offensively,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. ”They did a good job; they kept believing, kept hustling. We did not do a good job down the stretch. Turnovers, missing shots, missing free throws.”
Saxen made two free throws with 7:05 to go for a 62-46 lead. They were the Gaels’ final points.
San Diego closed to 62-58 with 32.3 seconds left on a layup by Wayne McKinney III. The Toreros trapped and Augustas Marciulionis lost the ball out of bounds with 14.4 seconds remaining.
McKinney was fouled on a layup but made just one of two free throws to make it 62-59. Mahaney missed the front end of a one-and-one with two seconds left and USD’s Neel Beniwal missed a desperation heave from three-quarter court at the buzzer.
Marciulionis had 11 points for Saint Mary’s.
Nic Lynch scored 17 points and Beniwal added 11 for USD (11-17, 4-10). The Toreros were without four regular starters, including leading scorer Marcellus Earlington (17.6 points per game) and leading rebounder Eric Williams Jr. (9.5 per game).
Saint Mary’s shot just 39.1% from the floor in the second half after shooting 53.8% on its way to a 39-20 halftime lead.
”We’ve got to get better. Our guards have got to get better,” Bennett said.
The Gaels led 12-11 midway through the first half and then began pulling away. They scored the last 14 points of the half behind strong inside play from Saxen and two 3-pointers by Marciulionis, the son of Hall of Famer Sarunas Marciulionis.
Marciulionis had three 3-pointers in the first half.
”They’ve been down some guys and so it’s hard for them to score,” Bennett said. ”Steve (Lavin) did a great job keeping them rallied up, playing, changing defenses up, and we did not do a good job handling it.”
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels have won two straight after a 78-74 overtime loss at Loyola Marymount snapped a 12-game winning streak.
San Diego: The Toreros, in their first season under Lavin, didn’t have the talent or size to keep up with the Gaels in the first half. San Diego was swept in the season series, having lost 85-58 at Saint Mary’s on Dec. 29.
Saint Mary’s hosts BYU on Saturday night.
San Diego is at No. 13 Gonzaga next Thursday night.
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