Seniors spur St. Mary’s to win over New Mexico State
Saint Mary’s senior forward Jock Landale joked Monday night about teammate Emmett Naar being “arrogant” because the fellow Australian knows how good he is on the basketball court.
New Mexico State is not one to argue after Naar led the No. 21 Gaels with 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting with five assists in the 92-74 victory in a nonconference game in Moraga, Calif.
“They weren’t really sure how to guard the on-ball and Emmett was getting layups all night,” Landale said. “Emmett’s a stud. He knows it as well. He’s quite arrogant, but no, it was a good game for us.”
Players like Landale can get giddy when a team starts 2-0 shooting better than 53 percent from the field in each game. Naar, Landale and fellow senior Calvin Hermanson accounted for 58 points against New Mexico State (1-1) while making 23 of 36 shots from the field (63.9 percent).
Saint Mary’s shot 55 percent from the field after making 53.8 percent of its shots in an 85-68 win over St. Francis (Pa.) in the season opener Saturday. The Gaels had 16 assists and only four turnovers against New Mexico State.
“I’m disappointed because we expected to win the game,” New Mexico State first-year coach Chris Jans said. “We felt good about our plan and going into this ballgame playing a team in November that was still trying to figure out some new roles for their guys (after the Gaels lost guard Joe Rahon and forward Dane Pineau to graduation).
“You kind of have to pick your poison against them. They shoot the ball so well and they spread you out so much. You have to either get in the gaps and make them kick it or play one-on-one and stay with the shooters. We elected to stay with the shooters ... and they got to the rim a ton.”
Landale had 20 and 10 rebounds while Hermanson finished with 16 points. Hermanson followed a 9-of-10 shooting performance in Saturday’s season opener against St. Francis (Pa.) by making 5 of 7 shots against the Aggies.
New Mexico State was led by Zach Lofton’s 18 points. Eli Chuha and A.J. Harris each had 13 points. Jemerrio Jones finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, his second consecutive double-double to start the season.
Saint Mary’s, which trailed by as many as eight points in the first half, pulled away in the second half behind a 9-0 run that increased its lead to 74-59 with 8:56 remaining.
The Aggies responded after trailing 29-21 in the first half with an 11-3 spurt, tying the score at 32 with 5:52 remaining before halftime. Evan Fitzner had five points and Hermanson four in that crucial stretch for the Gaels.
A layup by senior guard Cullen Neal with 1:40 remaining in the half capped a 10-3 run by Saint Mary’s, giving the Gaels a 42-38 lead.
“New Mexico State definitely came prepared,” said Neal, formerly of New Mexico and Ole Miss. “We got down by eight but we kept fighting and the coaches said to stay the course and that’s what we did. The big thing in the second half is we stopped them from 3-point range (1 of 9 shooting after halftime).”
The Gaels took a 47-42 lead into halftime. Dating to last season, they are 27-1 when leading at halftime. They are also 30-0 when shooting a better 3-point percentage than their opponents and 28-0 when outrebounding the opposition.
Saint Mary’s made 50 percent of its 3-pointers compared with New Mexico’s 38.1 percent. The Gaels outrebounded the Aggies 34-28.
NOTES: Saint Mary’s is 126-18 (.875) at home versus non-conference opponents since 2001-02. ... Saint Mary’s F Kyle Clark did not play because of a knee injury sustained in practice last week. He has missed the Gaels’ first two games. His status for Wednesday’s game against Cal State Fullerton is undetermined. ... New Mexico State returns home Friday to play rival New Mexico, which is coached by former Aggies coach Paul Weir. After New Mexico fired Craig Neal, the Lobos hired Weir in April. Weir was an assistant for 10 seasons at New Mexico State before replacing Marvin Menzies as head coach last season.