Saint Mary’s Open Up Conference Play on a High Note

Saint Mary's
Saint Mary's Malik Fitts (24) shoots over San Francisco Dons' Charles Minlend (14) to score a basket in the first half of their game at McKeon Pavilion at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

The game was sloppy at times, but Saint Mary’s went on the road and came out with a win against Bay Area rival, USF, 69-58 Thursday night in San Francisco. My game preview predicted this game to be an offensive affair between two high-scoring offenses. While that wasn’t the case, it still turned out to be competitive throughout. Let’s get into the recap.

Game Rewind

The game started out exactly how USF wanted it too. Right out of the jump, USF was able to use its size advantage to draw two quick fouls on the undersized Fotu. This, coupled with intense defensive pressure, led the Dons to some easy looks on offense. After 7 minutes of play and USF holding a 18-11 lead it seemed as though the pace was favoring USF. However, like all great teams do, Saint Mary’s was able to weather the storm, stay disciplined, and execute their game plan. That’s why, over the next 4 minutes, Saint Mary’s went on a 12-0 run, powered much by star forward Malik Fitts, and reclaimed the lead 21-18. From that point on, the Gaels would not relinquish the lead, and took a 36-28 lead into the half. Malik Fitts was the star of the first half, as he had 17 points and 10 rebounds heading into the locker room.

Ford’s Second Half

The second half saw more of the same for the Gaels, and they were never truly tested by USF until late in the game. SMC extended the lead to as much as 14 in the second half, but couldn’t put USF to bed. The Dons drew back within 6 with just under six minutes left in the half, but a quick 5-0 run by Ford created the separation SMC needed to finish out the game. While the first half was all Fitts, the second half was all Ford. He scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half and closed the game out for the Gaels down the stretch. This was reminiscent of the CAL game in which Malik dominated the first half before Ford was able to take over in the second half and down the stretch to get the win.

Saint Mary’s shot 43% from the field and 36 percent from three in this contest. That didn’t matter too much since the Gaels won this game on the defensive end. SMC held USF to only 33 percent from the field and 24 percent from three, well below their season average.

Difference Makers

After Fotu’s early fouls, Randy Bennett was forced to go to his bench early. Queue 7’3″ Aaron Menzies, who was able to come in and provide valuable minutes. Menzies and fellow 7-footer Jock Perry combined for 25 minutes against the Dons. The pair were able to neutralize 7-foot big man Jimbo Lull on the offensive end. Lull only scored 2 points against the international giants. That’s the advantage of having two 7-footers on your bench. It’ll be interesting to see how Randy Bennett continues to utilize Menzies and Perry moving forward.

All-American Duo

Saint Mary’s was again led in scoring by their dynamic duo of Fitts and Ford. The pair scored 21 and 16 respectively. They accounted for over 50% of the team’s scoring, and have shown that they can each carry the load offensively. After this game, Ford is now averaging 20.7, 3, and 2 on the season and Fitts is averaging 16.3 and 7.9 a game. If these two can continue this level of play, a WCC title is well within reach.

Next Up

The Gaels travel to Stockton on 1/4/2020 to face off against the Pacific Tigers at 7PM on the WCC network. Look out for the game preview for that matchup shortly.

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