No. 21 Saint Mary’s blows past Fullerton
MORAGA, Calif. — Calvin Hermanson says the message is stated clearly on the white board in the Saint Mary’s locker room: Transition defense.
The No. 21 Gaels didn’t meet the standard in the first half, allowing Cal State Fullerton to shoot 67 percent, including four breakaway baskets. Saint Mary’s flipped the script in the second half and rolled to a 76-57 victory Wednesday night.
“It’s the same story — defense,” said Hermanson, who led the Gaels (3-0) with 22 points. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. In the second half, we got a lot better.”
The Titans (0-2) trailed just 39-31 at halftime, then shot 31 percent over the final 20 minutes and didn’t get another uncontested layup. They contributed to their own demise with 21 turnovers, leading to 31 Saint Mary’s points.
Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett joked that the white board in the locker room has provided the same defensive reminder for 17 years.
“We’re not going to be the most athletic team as far as guarding the ball, but we have good size and good intelligence,” he said. “We’re giving up transition defense layups. It’s unacceptable.
“The second half was better — that’s really our only decent half defensively, so far.”
Hermanson said every opponent offers a different defensive challenge to the Gaels. The Titans wanted to attack off the dribble, and got 19 of their 22 field goals on layups, dunks or put-backs.
“We’ve got to be able to take away what they want,” he said. “If that’s getting into the paint, driving by us, we’ve got to do better.”
The Gaels’ job was made tougher by center Jock Landale, a preseason All-America candidate, getting into early foul trouble for the second straight game. He played just nine minutes in the first half, then collected his fourth foul with 11:24 left in the game and sat again.
“I’ve just got to get smarter on defense,” said Landale, who scored 15 points.
“At the level he’s at,” Bennett said, “he’s got to know better than to take a risk on a foul.”
Point guard Emmett Naar added 11 points and nine assists.
Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor was pleased by his team’s aggressive mentality after an 84-42 thrashing at the hands of No. 10 USC in the season opener. The Titans scored 38 points in the paint and out-rebounded Saint Mary’s 36-26.
But on the heels of shooting 2 for 19 from the 3-point line against USC, they missed their first nine attempts and wound up 1 for 11.
Taylor said he can live with that.
“I don’t have experience with turning the ball over 21 times for 31 points,” he said. “That’s been our nemesis.”
Through 14 minutes of the first half, the Titans had more turnovers (11) than shot attempts (10).
“That’s 100 percent us and I don’t mean that to be disrespectful to Saint Mary’s,” Taylor said. “That is a very good ball club we played tonight.”
Kyle Allman and Jackson Rowe led Fullerton with 13 points apiece.
NOTES: Saint Mary’s improved to 80-8 in non-conference home games over the past 10 seasons. ... Gaels senior center Jock Landale was named this week to the top-50 watch list for the John R. Wooden Award. ... The teams split 10 previous meetings dating back to 1983, but the Gaels had won the past three, by an average of more than 20 points. ... Saint Mary’s returns to action Sunday with its first road game of the season, at San Jose State. ... Fullerton takes a break from its early-season Top 25 diet, returning home Saturday to play Bethesda.