Saint Mary’s pulls away in second half to down Missouri State

MORAGA, Calif. – Missouri State trailed Saint Mary’s by five at the midway point and showed the defensive intensity it needed to stay in the game early. But the home-standing Gaels outscored the visitors by 15 in the second half and used a physical inside presence to gain separation down the stretch in a 66-46 road loss for MoState late Wednesday.

Saint Mary’s (7-3) collected 48 points in the paint and shot 51 percent from the field while outscoring Missouri State by a 29-15 margin over the last 14 minutes.

Alston Mason and Chance Moore led MSU’s scoring efforts with 12 points apiece, both accounting for two 3-pointers.

It marked the Bears’ second trip to Moraga in as many seasons to take on the nationally-prominent Gaels squad.

“Saint Mary’s is a championship-caliber program,” Bears head coach Dana Ford said of the Gaels. “Just our preparation over the last three days and seeing what they do and how they do things. And then seeing them execute those things tonight. Those are the things we can learn from and things we can get better from as a team.”

The Bears used a scrappy defensive effort to stay within 26-21 in the first half, getting within one point of the lead on three occasions. But after a layup from Donovan Clay opened up the second half, SMC went on a 7-0 run to lead by double figures for the first time, 33-23, and forced a Bears timeout with 16:44 remaining.

Back-to-back MSU 3-pointers by Chance Moore and Mason brought the visitors back within 37-31, at the 14:27 mark, but that was as close as the Bears would get. Saint Mary’s allowed MSU just two field goals over the next eight minutes – a three by James Graham and a transition bucket by Dawson Carper – while the Gaels’ lead ballooned to 18.

“I thought Dawson from an effort standpoint was solid,” Ford said of his 6-foot-11 senior who made his second start of the season. “We need him to continue to improve his production, but he had some tough matchups around the rim with their size.”

Mitchell Saxen was part of the SMC size that gave the Bears fits. He made 7-of-10 shots in the first half and finished with 19 points. The Gaels’ other big man Alex Ducas scored 9 points, all in the second half, to contribute to the inside threat by the home club.

Saint Mary’s ended the night, making 11 of its last 19 field goal attempts in the last 14 minutes to put the game out of reach.

The Bears were out-rebounded, 31-26, but allowed just 6 second-chance points on the evening with the Gaels collecting just five offensive caroms.

MSU finished 17-of-47 (.362) overall from the field while converting 7-of-20 (.350) from long range and 5-of-10 (.500) at the foul line with 13 turnovers. MSU also had just 6 second-chance points and racked up 5 blocked shots.

In the first half, SMC led 12-4 just four minutes into the game, but MSU unreeled a 12-5 run over the next six minutes to close the gap to 17-16 after back-to-back buckets from Donovan Clay. With less than three minutes to go in the period and MSU trailing 22-19, Clay hit the deck on a jumper from the right side, but with no call, the Gaels found an easy layup on the other end by Logan Johnson to extend their advantage to five. The clubs traded buckets from there to give the home side a five-point lead at the break.

Clay and Carper led the Bears with 6 rebounds apiece on the night, while Dalen Ridgnal snagged 5 boards.

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