For 30 minutes, Saint Mary’s looked poised to make a major statement. After a scare, the Gaels escaped with a 61-57 win over Dayton that could prove invaluable come March.
Neither team shot well, neither team scored over one point per possession, and both teams suffered through spells of hapless offense riddled with turnovers. It’s not exactly what we could have expected for a clash of two high-powered offenses. Charles Cooke scored the game high with 19 points, but 11 of those came from the free throw line. It was not a day to remember for the Flyers.
Already without sophomore forward Josh Cunningham (12.5 ppg), who injured his ankle late in the Flyers win over Alabama on Nov. 15, Dayton suffered another blow before the game even began. Kendall Pollard was ruled out in the hours leading up to tip-off with a thigh injury.
Additionally, the school announced that Cunningham would miss approximately three months due to ankle surgery.
It went from bad to worse for Dayton as the Gaels jumped out to a quick lead.
Saint Mary’s is known for playing a team-focused style of offense that relies heavily on ball movement. Early on in this one, however, forwards Jock Landale (15 points, 14 rebounds) and Calvin Hermanson (16 points) were the only ones scoring for the Gaels. When Kyle Clark hit a three-pointer with 9:04 to play in the first, he was just the third Gael in the scoring column. Saint Mary’s led 22-16 at that point, and it only got worse for the Flyers from there.
Over the next three minutes, three more Gaels entered the scoring column as the lead grew to 14 points.
While exceptional offense is the Gaels’ calling card, they were stingy on defense in this one. Dayton was held scoreless from the field from the 9:30 mark of the first half until just 2:42 remained in the period. Dayton had just two assists in the first half and turned the ball over eight times.
Coming out of the break, it was Saint Mary’s that got sloppy. After turning the ball over just three times in the first half, the Gaels coughed it up three times in the first three minutes of the second.
Dayton was unable to take advantage, though, and the Gaels’ lead eventually ballooned to 20 points with 8:20 to play.
From there, Saint Mary’s began to meltdown. The Gaels scored just two field goals over the final 10 minutes of the game and the Flyers clawed their way back into it. Uncharacteristic turnovers from Emmett Naar (seven points) down the stretch proved costly.
With 1:57 to play, Scoochie Smith (16 points) made it a two-possession game with a fastbreak layup after stripping Naar near half court.
That bucket from Smith was part of a 13-1 run over the final three-plus minutes that brought the Flyers to within two points.
In the end, it wasn’t enough. After some trouble getting the ball inbounded in the final seconds, Naar made up for his late-game errors. A pair of free throws with seven seconds remaining put the Gaels up by two possessions.
Dayton falls to 2-1 on the season while Saint Mary’s improves to 3-0.