MORAGA, Calif. — A crazed sellout crowd, a nationally ranked opponent with all five starters returning that rarely loses at home.
Those factors alone made Friday’s opener a tough one for the Nevada Wolf Pack.
And, then throw in reserve center Jock Landale, who scored a career-high 33 points and nine rebounds to lead the 17th-ranked Saint Mary’s Gaels to an 81-63 win over the Pack before 3,500 at McKeon Pavilion.
“It was a great game for my start but I’m just happy we came out and played well,” Landale said. “It’s my guys. My guys, Joe (Rahon) and Emmett (Naar) are phenomenal at passing the ball. They find me really easily and that’s where I got most of my points.”
Nevada coach Eric Musselman said during the week the Pack was an unfinished product, and he was right.
Nevada’s defense was no match for the ball-control tactics of the Gaels, who continually broke the Pack down off the dribble and scored at will inside.
Landale, a last-minute starter for Dane Pineau, made 15 of 20 field-goal attempts. He had nearly half of the Gaels’ 33 field goals.
“We got absolutely annihilated inside,” said Musselman. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a player hit 15 of 20. We got annihilated inside at the secret scrimmage. We have a lot of work to do.
“We weren’t ready to play this type of team in a place like this. That is an NCAA tournament team. They don’t lose here. I never should have scheduled the game.”
The Gaels have now won 72 of their last 78 games at McKeon Pavilion.
When you think of Saint Mary’s you think of guard play. Joe Rahon and Emmett Naar are dangerous 3-point shooters, but that aspect of the game took a backseat to the ability of Landale to score at will whether it was Jordan Caroline, Cameron Oliver or Elijah Foster on him.
“There was some pick and roll (plays),” Caroline said. “We didn’t do a good job of getting down to the back guy.”
“He is 7-foot and weighs 260,” Oliver said. “They just fed the post. We’re undersized, and we have to find a way to work with that.”
The 17th-ranked Gaels shot 56.7 percent from the floor in the opening half thanks to Landale, who scored 16 points and pulled down five rebounds to help the Gaels to a 42-29 lead.
Evan Fitzner knocked down two treys early for an 18-9 lead, but the Pack responded with an 11-4 run, tying the game at 22 with 7:56 remaining in the half. Caroline, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds, had two buckets and two free throws in that span.
“Jordan played really hard,” Musselman said.
Oliver, who finished with 13 points before fouling out late in the game, picked up his second foul moments later and went to the bench.
That’s when the Gaels delivered the knockout punch, outscoring Nevada 16-2 in a 5-minute stretch and 18-7 overall in the final seven minutes to open up the aforementioned 13-point lead.
Kyle Clark started the barrage with a drive to the basket, and after a Nevada turnover, D.J. Fenner fouled Calvin Hermanson on a 3-point attempt, and Hermanson dropped in all 3 to make it 27-22.
After Marcus Marshall misfired, Landale scored on a lay-up and Clark dropped in a 3-ball to make it 34-24. Joe Rahon (11 points) scored on a drive and Landale tallied a lay-up to make it 38-24.
Nevada never got closer than 10 the rest of the way, trimming the deficit to 51-41 and 53-43, respectively.
And, the only reason the Pack was able to stay within shouting distance was the play of Marcus Marshall, who scored 21 of his team high 25 in the second half. After a 1-for-9 start in the opening 20 minutes, he knocked down 7-for-11 in the final half.
“I started out slow,” Marshall said. “My teammates urged me to keep shooting. With Cam out, I had to be more aggressive.”
Nevada could never make up any ground because it couldn’t get enough defensive stops.
“They’re (Nevada) good and going to be really good,” SMC coqch Randy Bennett said. “I can’t remember a game I was more stressed about. It was a great college basketball game. It was fun to be part of. I’m glad we got out of there with a W, but we did play well, we needed to play well to beat them.”
HELLO MR. CARTER
Former Nevada coach David Carter is in his second year as a “volunteer” coach for the Gaels. Carter, as part of his buyout after he was fired by Nevada, can’t be paid to coach anywhere until his contract is up which is at the end of the present season.
As expected, Carter didn’t make himself available to the media this week despite requests from the Appeal and Reno Gazette Journal.
The Cal women used a 26-11 second-quarter run to knock off Saint Mary’s, 74-67. Asha Thomas scored 19 to lead the Bears and Courtney Range added 14. The Gaels were led by Carly Turner who scored 21.