Gaels Defeat Gonzaga 64–62 and Are No. 1 in the West Coast Conference
Aidan Mahaney leads the way with 20 points, including four three pointers. It’s the first time since 2018 that Saint Mary’s has taken down the Bulldogs in the Kennel. And the Gaels’ 10th win in a row.
The Saint Mary’s Gaels (18–6, 9–0 WCC) remained unbeaten in WCC play with yet another signature win, defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs (16–6, 7–2 WCC) 64–62 on the road for the first time since 2018. This matchup was expected to be a tight one, and it certainly lived up to the billing, with 13 lead changes. In the end, the Gaels only led for 8+ minutes, but when the final horn sounded, the Gaels earned the hard fought victory. The win was the Gaels 10th in a row.
The Gaels trailed by just one at the halftime break at 34–33, but the way the game began, the Saint Mary's certainly had to be pleased with that deficit. The Gaels started off 0–9 from the field and fell behind 15–4 early, but rallied back to take a 17–16 lead at the 9:23 mark. The two teams continued to battle back and forth, with Gonzaga taking the narrow lead into the halftime break. After their slow start, the Gaels closed out the half by shooting 13–23 from the field. Aidan Mahaney and Mitchell Saxen each tallied nine points to lead Saint Mary's, while Joshua Jefferson added seven points, four rebounds, and four assists, playing the entire first half.
Gaels Take the lead
Joshua Jefferson got things going early in the second half, knocking down his first three field goal attempts to regain the lead for the Gaels, 39–38. While Gonzaga regained the lead multiple times, they never could extend it beyond two possessions. With 3:36 remaining, Aidan Mahaney hit a circus layup through contact, followed by a dagger stepback three by Jefferson to give the Gaels their first two possession lead of the game. This carried Saint Mary's to victory, as they closed things out 64–62 in front of a distraught Gonzaga crowd. Aidan Mahaney led the Gaels with 11 second half points, while Joshua Jefferson scored nine and seven rebounds in the second half, completing the full forty minutes of play.
Aidan Mahaney led all Gaels with 20 points, including four huge three pointers. Joshua Jefferson played all forty minutes, picking up his fourth career double-double with 16 points and 11 boards. Mitchell Saxen chipped in 15 points and six rebounds, while Augustas Marciulionis added 11 and four assists to just one turnover. The Gaels turned the ball over just five times in the contest, making it four straight with less than 10 giveaways.
The Late Surge
Like two heavyweight boxers in the ring, both of these squads matched each other blow for blow most of the game. But with 3:36 to go, the Gaels began to work towards the knockout blow.
With SMC and Gonzaga knotted up at 55, the Gaels’ Aidan Mahaney went one on one with Braden Huff, driving to the rim and finishing through the contact to give the Gaels a 57–55 lead. On the ensuing possession, the Zags’ Nolan Hickman fired up a tough, end of shotclock three that missed long, and SMC’s Joshua Jefferson perfectly sealed Anton Watson to pick up his then tenth rebound.
That wasn't Jefferson's only impact on that possession. On the offensive side, he collected a pass from Mahaney, took one dribble inside the arc, stepped back, and buried a dagger three to give the Gaels their first two possession lead of the game.
Gonzaga’s Ben Gregg then scored on a putback and was fouled, but he missed the free throw, bringing the deficit to three at 60–57 with only two minutes to go. Both teams traded empty possessions, bringing the clock down to 1:20 with the Gaels still holding onto a three point lead and the basketball. This set up the biggest sequence of the game for the Gaels.
Aidan Mahaney had the ball poked away by Graham Ike while driving to the hoop, but he stayed with the play, tip-toed the baseline, and saved the ball from trickling out of bounds, quickly sending the ball to Alex Ducas. Ducas gave a quick touch pass over to Augustas Marciulionis, who canned a deep three, pushing the Gaels ahead 63–57 with 45 seconds to go.
Gonzaga hit one more three, but a late free throw by Mitchell Saxen pushed the Gaels back ahead by two possessions with five seconds to go, effectively ending the game after a wild close. All told, the Gaels outscored the Zags 12–7 over the final 5:30, the stretch that sealed the victory.
Full Forty Double-Double for Jefferson
If you are a fan of good basketball or just good alliteration, then you had to love Joshua Jefferson's performance against the Zags. In playing the full 40 minutes against Gonzaga, the sophomore power forward picked up a double-double against Gonzaga, the fourth of his career. Going 7–14 from the field, Jefferson also tied for the team lead with four assists.
Jefferson's previous career-high for minutes played in a single game was 36, which he did earlier this season on the road at San Francisco, when he also picked up a double-double. Jefferson's growth this season has been exponential, as he's been a big reason as to why the Gaels have won each of their last 10 and 15 of their last 16.
With another signature victory on the road, Saint Mary's is now 6–0 in true road games. The trend started with the Gaels upset victory over then unbeaten Colorado State in Fort Collins in December, 64–61. That was followed up with two wins at San Diego and LMU to open up conference play. Saint Mary's then picked up a blow out victory of Santa Clara in the South Bay 73–49, just two days after the Broncos defeated Gonzaga. Saint Mary’s next matchup was a battle for first place in the conference at San Francisco, with the Gaels taking care of business again, 77–60.
After their sixth straight road victory, the Gaels are now shooting just two percent less on the road than they are at home. They’re shooting better from three on the road, and they are outscoring opponents by 10 on average in hostile territory.
Saint Mary's has three more road contests—against Pacific, Portland, Pepperdine—as they look for their first ever perfect road record for a season in program history.
UP NEXT: The Gaels will have little time to rest, as they head to Stockton to take on University of the Pacific on Tuesday, February 6. Tip off is set for 8 p.m.
READ MORE: This story as it appears at SMCGaels.com
Story updated February 4, 2024, at 11:50 a.m.