For a while there it looked like madness had made its way west.
Saint Mary's boasts the nation's best shooting offense (50.9% FG) and came to Vegas as the WCC's top seed. But it's March, so against the No. 8 LMU Lions their offense sputtered along and managed just 25 first half points. Evan Fitzner (pump faked a free throw, which led to a lane violation turnover. The Gaels committed multiple shot clock violations despite their usual razor sharp awareness of the time. It looked like LMU was going to pressure the Gaels into an ugly game and walk out with an upset.
The deficit wasn't the only scare the Lions gave the Gaels tonight. With 4:20 remaining in the game Joe Rahon (10 points) and Brandon Brown (7 points) collided in what looked like a football play going for a loose ball. Rahon needed a minute to get up off the deck, then another minute in the timeout to shake off the hit. Maybe he's got a little football player in him though.
"For me to get ten rebounds that means our big guys they're boxing out and it allows me to go play free safety," Rahon said after the game. His ten rebounds were a game and career high. The Gaels dominated the Lions on the glass 39 to 24.
Steven Haney led the Lions with 19 points while Dane Pineau led the Gaels with 16.
But the Lions eventually relented, started playing like a No. 8 and fell apart down the stretch just as the Gaels returned to form.
The game opened pretty much as expected, with the molasses-slow Gaels taking their sweet time while holding a lead. At the under-eight minute TV timeout the score was 16-14 Saint Mary's. Those numbers had been on the scoreboard for over three minutes.
Saint Mary's offense erupted out of that timeout and needed less than a minute to make it 21-14. Then, though, things went off the rails.
LMU intensified its pressure on the Gaels' guards and nearly as quickly as the Gaels took their multi-possession lead the Lions had erased it. With 3:55 to play senior Marin Mornar cut the deficit to one. On the next possession Steven Haney gave the Lions the lead.
Even after the break the Gaels looked rattled. For a while at least.
It took over five minutes of play but when Joe Rahon hit a three with 14:55 to play the Gaels had reclaimed the lead. Moments later the Gaels went on an 18-3 run that would last until the final minutes. In the end it was a 12 point victory for the top seed in the tournament.
"It felt a lot closer than 62-48," head coach Randy Bennett said, "I'll tell you that."
Another close game is likely for the Gaels on Monday, as they'll face a fourth seeded Pepperdine Waves squad that swept them this season.