December 8, 2013

Unbeaten Gaels Open Early Lead and Beat Eagles 93-65

A challenging month of December begins with loss to West Coast Conference powerhouse and winners of 25-straight non-conference home games

Saint Mary’s is hard to beat at all – let alone at home -- and the Gaels made sure early against Eastern Washington University that their streak wasn’t going to come to an end.

The Gaels won for the 25th-straight time at home against a non-conference opponent with a wire-to-wire 93-65 victory over the Eagles in a men’s basketball game at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Calif., on Sunday (Dec. 8).

Saint Mary’s, which opened an early 40-19 lead, ended a seven-game homestand perfect on the season at 7-0. The Gaels were 28-7 overall and 14-2 in the WCC a year ago. Eastern, off to its best start in five seasons, fell to 5-3 as it began a challenging month of December.

“Saint Mary’s is a better team than I thought – they whupped us,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “They are a very good team and I give them credit for the win.”

Sophomore guard Tyler Harvey, the reigning Big Sky Conference Player of the Week, led the Eagles with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field. Junior point guard Drew Brandon added 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting and a pair of assists. The rest of the team made only 11-of-36 for 31 percent.

“For the most part I was really pleased with our character – this game didn’t come easy,” said Hayford. “Saint Mary’s is a top 25 team. We just have to use it to get ourselves better.”

Eastern’s December schedule also includes games against UC Irvine, Seton Hall and Connecticut before opening Big Sky Conference play Jan. 2. Eastern fell to UC Irvine 81-58 on Nov. 24, and the Eagles and Anteaters will meet in a rematch next Sunday (Dec. 15) in Cheney as a return game for EWU’s appearance two seasons ago in Irvine in the ESPN BracketBusters series of games.

Eastern finished the Saint Mary’s game at 39 percent, and made only 4-of-23 shots from the 3-point stripe for 17 percent. Eastern had entered the game ranked 28th among 345 schools with an average of 8.7 treys made per game and 28th in 3-point field goal percentage (41.5 percent).

Saint Mary’s, which had allowed opponents to make only 28 percent from the 3-point arc coming into the game, had a 48 percent night offensively. The Gaels out-scored EWU 44-24 inside the paint, and also made 8-of-17 3-point shots.

Brad Waldow led five Saint Mary’s players in double figures, as the 6-foot-9 junior finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and a blocked shot. He led a 49-36 rebounding advantage for the Gaels, including 18-10 on the offensive glass.

“He’s a really good player,” said Hayford. “They had some high-percentage looks and we didn’t impede what they wanted to do offensively. That just highlighted some things we have to do better defensively. They had 18 offensive rebounds and that’s an effort stat.”

The Gaels used early runs of 6-0, 8-0 and 6-0 to jump out to an early double-digit advantage it would never relinquish. A 9-2 spurt opened a 33-15 lead and a 7-2 run gave them their biggest lead of the half at 40-19 with 2:25 remaining.

After trailing 41-26 at intermission, Eastern pulled within 12 on a pair of free throws by Parker Kelly with 17:38 remaining, but could come no closer than 13 the rest of the way. Saint Mary’s opened its largest lead of the game at 32 with 1:40 to play.

Saint Mary’s is one of four programs nationally to have won at least 25 games in each of the previous six seasons. The others include Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas. The 2007-08 Saint Mary’s squad is the only other Randy Bennett-coached Gaels team to start the year a perfect 7-0. The 1988-89 Gaels, coached by Lynn Nance, began their season with nine straight wins en route to a 25-5 season.

“We’ll use this situation to get better,” added Hayford. “This was a tough night.”

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