MORAGA, Calif. – Rob Jones had 28 points and eight rebounds, Stephen Holt scored a career-high 23 points and No. 18 Saint Mary's survived a slow start to beat San Diego 84-73 on Thursday night for its 12th straight victory.
Matthew Dellavedova added 17 points, six rebounds and five assists to anchor a late 15-6 run that gave the Gaels (22-2, 11-0) the lead for good against a surprising West Coast Conference challenger. Saint Mary's has won 15 straight at home to keep alive its chances for the program's first undefeated season at McKeon Pavilion.
Chris Manresa had 25 points and Dennis Kramer scored 17 for the Toreros (8-14, 3-7), who pushed the Gaels to the brink for the second time this season. San Diego lost 78-72 at home to Saint Mary's on Jan. 5.
Duplicating that type of performance has been a rare sight this year for McKeon Pavilion visitors.
The Toreros, who upset Saint Mary's 74-66 in San Diego last season, showed no signs of slipping this year. They pulled ahead in the opening minutes with a torrid start from beyond the arc and kept the Gaels on edge with production from across the roster.
Kramer came off the bench and made a pair of 3-pointers during a sudden spurt that gave San Diego a 24-19 lead. The Toreros went ahead by as many as six until the Gaels started to build momentum just before half, tying the score at 42 on Stephen Holt's layup in the opening minutes of the second session.
Little separation occurred until late.
A total of 15 ties and six lead changes highlighted a tight contest. Both teams shot well — San Diego at 60 percent and Saint Mary's at 46 percent — and made few mistakes.
Dellavedova shook off a timid start to tame the Toreros, making a 3-pointer, short jumper and two free throws during a 15-6 stretch that put the Gaels ahead by seven. Later, he floated a pass above the rim that Jones slammed for an alley-oop, putting Saint Mary's back in front 80-73 with 54 seconds remaining and bringing fans roaring to their feet.
Another strong season is shaping up for Saint Mary's, but nothing has come easy lately.
After breaking his thumb last week in a locker room mishap, Gaels coach Randy Bennett already was wearing a cast around his right hand and a short-sleeve collared shirt instead of his usual sharp suits. He said he opened a door and a white board fell on his thumb, requiring emergency surgery in Los Angeles following a victory at Loyola Marymount.
Most students also were absent because of a brief vacation between terms. That still didn't stop crowds from flocking to tiny McKeon Pavilion to create another strong and feverish turnout at the mid-major powerhouse.
Saint Mary's is one of eight teams in Division I — along with WCC rival Gonzaga and newcomer BYU — to win at least 25 games in each of the last four seasons. The ranking this week in the AP poll is the highest for Saint Mary's since 1989.
The highest ranking ever for the program is No. 14, a mark held in the first poll of the 1958-59 season. A few more wins might put top that mark — even if they have to sweat out another victory.