For the Saint Mary’s Gaels, the scenario was too familiar.
The Gaels trailed the Gonzaga Bulldogs by four points in Spokane, and given the Gaels’s glacial play and the Zags’ home-court advantage, those four points felt like 14. Even though Jan. 18 was too early to crown a West Coast Conference regular-season champion, Randy Bennett and co. knew that a win in Spokane would go a long way. With four seniors in the starting lineup — including WCC Preseason Player of the Year Jock Landale — and a relatively down year for Mark Few’s juggernaut of a team, the next half of basketball seemed to be now-or-never for Saint Mary’s.
Naturally, Landale exited the halftime locker room with the team on his shoulders. The senior was unstoppable, scoring 17 of the Gaels’s 36 second-half points — including 11 of the team’s final 13 — on Gonzaga’s frontcourt. Rui Hachimura wasn’t experienced enough to counter Landale’s post moves. Johnathan Williams didn’t have the length. Landale was doing it all.
But singling out one signature moment from Jock Landale’s decorated senior season is a difficult task. Few big men in the nation, much less bigs in the mid-major ranks, controlled the game quite like Landale. From both a statistical and an in-game standpoint, the senior was head-and-shoulders above the competition, which is why he is our player of the year.
Throughout the season, Landale was a dominant force. In a conference all but controlled by the Zags for the past few decades, having a player in a Saint Mary’s uniform control virtually every game was no small feat. The WCC preseason first-team selection and eventual WCC Player of the Year averaged 21.1 ppg and 10.2 rpg on an impressive 64 percent from the field. He notched 19 double-doubles in 36 games. And, for the first time in his career, he even made a few threes.
For the most part, defenses couldn’t find a surefire way to completely contain Landale; if he was shut down as a scorer, then he’d be attacking the glass. If opponents doubled Landale, then he’d find the open man. Even his “down” games — a 5-of-11 performance against Pacific, or merely six points at Portland — were impressive. That 45.5 FG% outing against the Tigers? Landale posted 13 points and 17 rebounds. The Gaels won by 17 in Portland with a 6-and-10 from Landale and a game-high 11 boards.
Although Landale’s name hasn’t been floating around NBA Draft mocks as of late, the seven-footer with solid footwork, soft passing and an undeniable proficiency in rebounding will have quite the professional career ahead of him. In the age of advanced analytics, Landale jumps off the page — I mean, just check out his KenPom profile. More likely than not, his Second Team All-American, NABC All-Coaches’ Second Team and the myriad of national selections he earned this year won’t be the end for Landale.
Seeing a Saint Mary’s roster without Landale will be rather jarring next season. He’ll leave Moraga as one of the all-time Gael greats, and it’s safe to say few Saint Mary’s players would want to don number 34 in his wake.