No. 21 Saint Mary's loses 75-60 to LMU

Published:

MORAGA, Calif. (AP) -- Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett's team is going to need some help if the 21st-ranked Gaels are to clinch an outright conference championship this season.

Bennett's got bigger concerns than that at this point.

With starting guard Stephen Holt on crutches after injuring his right knee in Wednesday's 75-60 loss to Loyola Marymount, and point guard Matthew Dellavedova nursing a sore ankle, the Gaels just want to get healthy for the stretch run.

"I'd just like to be able to finish strong and get our guys back healthy," a solemn Bennett said. "If we don't do that, it does not matter."

The Gaels (23-4, 12-2 WCC) were definitely reeling following their first loss at home this season.

Their lead over No. 24 Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference is down to one game and they can't secure the outright title unless the Bulldogs lose one of their final four games.

The game was reminiscent and came one day shy of the one-year anniversary of the Gaels' late-season conference loss to unranked San Diego in 20011, which prevented Saint Mary's from clinching the outright conference title.

Some also believe it was the pivotal factor in the Gaels not receiving an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament, something that has to weigh on Bennett's mind with only three games left on the schedule.

While 23 wins is still likely to get them into the tournament, it's no given.

"We're disappointed we lost but LMU is a good team," said Dellavedova, who had 10 points and six assists. "Our defense wasn't very good. We need to improve that and just pay attention to the little things. If we can improve that, we'll be OK."

Drew Viney scored 17 points, Anthony Ireland had 16 and Loyola Marymount bounced back from one of its most lopsided losses of the season to beat the Gaels.

Jarred Dubois added 15 points and Ashley Hamilton had 11 for the Lions (17-10, 10-4), who silenced a capacity crowd at McKeon Pavilion with a huge road win that significantly tightened the conference race.

The 10 conference wins are the most by Loyola Marymount since the 1989-90 Bo Kimble-led Lions made it to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.

The Lions snapped their 11-game losing streak to Saint Mary's with an aggressive, effective defense that kept the Gaels from getting any kind of interior game going and an offense that repeatedly scored off offensive rebounds to keep the overflow crowd silent.

"It says we're here to stay now," Ireland said. "It was definitely a statement game."

Rob Jones had 25 points and 15 rebounds for Saint Mary's, which shot just 6 of 28 from 3-point range, including 1 of 13 in the second half.

Ireland got the Lions going early but it was Viney, the team's leading scorer, and Hamilton who came up big in the second half. Viney made a 3-pointer to give Loyola Marymount a 52-42 lead with 9:24 left then later put an emphatic stamp on the win with a soaring one-handed dunk from the baseline while Hamilton scored six points in the final 5 1-2 minutes.

That helped the Lions improve to 9-3 on the road this season, a big accomplishment for a team that has been beset by injuries to several key players this season.

Even when Ireland went to the bench because of foul trouble late in the second half, Loyola Marymount didn't flinch.

Saint Mary's could have clinched an automatic spot in the semifinals of the conference tournament by beating Loyola Marymount. Instead it was the Lions who improved their postseason outlook while trimming the Gaels' lead in the WCC to one game over Gonzaga.

It was a rough night all around for Bennett's squad.

Holt left the game and needed to use crutches after the game while Dellavedova rolled his ankle and was limping noticeably.

"That hurts us," Bennett said of Holt's injury. "We're going to have to figure out a way to do it without him."

Dellavedova finished with 10 points and six assists.

The conference leader in steals, Holt limped off the court shortly after getting caught in a pile while scrambling for a loose ball and spent the second half on the end of the bench with his right knee wrapped in a thick bag of ice.

Without one of its top defenders and the team's third-leading scorer, Saint Mary's struggled to find any consistency on either end of the court.

The Gaels made two brief runs in the second half but couldn't get closer than five points.