Things were off for the Gaels from the moment the starting line-up was announced. Beau Levesque came off the bench in favor of Dane Pineau, who saw the floor in just six of the last ten games.
Oddities continued into the game itself. The Gaels are an above-average shooting team but missed their first five shots. During that span the Utes ran out to an 11-0 lead. Poor shooting continued through the half. Saint Mary's made just eight of 29 field goals (27.6%).
Saint Mary's answered Utah's 11-0 run with a quick, two minute 7-0 run. With 12 minutes remaining the Gaels had pulled within one. Finally scoring, though not shooting well, the Gaels still failed to really pull ahead of the Utes. Giveaways and fouls, 7 and 11 respectively, doomed Saint Mary's.
Utah went on another run, this time 9-0, to extend the lead to 30-17. With five minutes left in the half, and a thirteen point deficit, a transformation occurred. Saint Mary's, somehow, started playing like the Saint Mary's we're used to. A 6-0 run from the Gaels closed out the half, powered by Stephen Holt. Holt ended the half with a last second basket. Before that, he had a steal turn into a fast break lay-in.
The play after Holt's transition bucket, Brad Waldow tried to copy him. Except, the man with the vampire styled mouth guard, tried to be a bit more flashy. He cracked back for a one handed slam only to see it end the way all of my dunk attempts do, by hitting the front of the rim.
Despite a statistically disastrous half, the Gaels entered the locker room down by just seven points.
A 6-0 run ended the first half. Though the Utes would score in the early going of the second, the Gaels scored at a faster rate. That 6-0 run grew into a 13-9 run that spanned the final five minutes of the first half to the 12:30 mark of the second.
It ended just after potential disaster struck Saint Mary's. Fouls plagued the Gaels in the first half. It seemed the same in the second when team leader, senior and point guard Stephen Holt picked up his fourth foul with 12:56 remaining.
No worries, two unexpected Gaels stepped up. James Walker and Matt Hodgson.
Walker, who finished with a career high 21 points, shifted into another gear in the second half. He had 15 points on a stellar 4-5 shooting (7-9 FT) in the half. With Walker focusing on putting the ball in the basket, Hodgson was all about keeping it out. Block after block after block after block, each more emphatic than the last.
With the Utah lead dwindling, the volume level was increasing as the home fans became more and more energized. Stephen Holt cut the Utah lead to two with an aggressive, driving and-one. The next offensive possession was another aggressive driving and-one from Holt to bring his team within one. Holt's third consecutive aggressive drive also resulted in a foul call, and once the whistle had stopped blowing you could hear a pin drop.
5:06 remained when Holt was called for an offensive foul, his fifth. The four year starter was close to tears. His career could come to an end and he couldn't do anything about it.
However, Kerry Carter could.
Carter, who had no points until this point, went off for five quick points. A wide open three then a fast break lay-up. All Kerry Carter does is take (161 attempts this year) and make (60 makes) three pointers. His first points came at the perfect time. The three tied the game, the lay-up gave the Gaels their first lead of the night.
Playing for their senior leader, the Gaels did not take their foot off the gas.
James Walker looked to extend the lead with a drive to the basket. Utah's best post player Dallin Bachynski was waiting... to pick up his fifth foul.
The led grew, to three, four, seven and finally ten, 60-50. Utah had gone from dominating to down, and began the foul-fest with nearly two minutes remaining.
Saint Mary's struggled at the line, but did just enough to maintain their lead over those final two minutes. Actually, the Gaels extended their lead a couple of times.
It was as if the two teams swapped bodies at halftime. The poor shooting, inept ball-handling Gaels of the first half became red hot in the second. Utah shot just 36.4% in the second half and totaled 21 turnovers in the game, ten in the second half, though they all seemed to come in the final few minutes.
Final: 70-58 Gaels. Next up is a Sunday date at No. 1 Minnesota.