Gaels Outmuscle and Outlast Dons for Big Home Victory. SMC Now Has the Longest Winning Streak in the Nation.

Saint Mary’s has the inside track on winning the West Coast Conference season—and the No. 1 seed in the WCC tournament.

by Ryan Barnett, Assistant Athletic Director for Communications | February 21, 2024


With wins on the road earlier this season at San Francisco and Gonzaga, the Saint Mary’s Gaels (22–6, 13–0 WCC) gave themselves the inside track at a regular season West Coast Conference title and the number one seed at the WCC tournament. There is still work to be done—but the Gaels cleared one of their final major hurdles on Tuesday night, edging out the San Francisco Dons (21-7, 10-3 WCC) inside UCU Pavilion, 70–66. The win tied the program record for consecutive conference wins, set in the 2017–18 season, and gave the Gaels a NCAA leading 14th consecutive victory overall. That comes on the heels of national polls putting the Gaels at No. 18 in the country.

The physical, grind-it-out game began with the Dons taking an early 9–6 lead in the first four minutes and change. The Gaels responded by seizing momentum with a 7–2 run, regaining the lead at 13–11, a lead they would not relinquish throughout the remainder of the first half. Alex Ducas led the Gaels in the first frame with 10 points and five rebounds, while Mitchell Saxen finished the frame with six points and nine rebounds—three less than the entire USF squad in the period. 

The Gaels hung onto the lead for the first 8:24 of the second half, before the Dons were finally able to pull back in front at 46-45. This prompted a back and forth battle over the ensuing possessions, but San Francisco seemed to take the air out of the gym when the Dons took their first two possession lead of the game at 58–54 following a stretch of four missed Gael free throws.


Gaels Claw Back

Saint Mary's turned to some veteran leaders to claw back into things. Alex Ducas got hacked and knocked down both of his free throw attempts to cut the deficit to two. The Gaels picked up a stop on the ensuing possession before Mitchell Saxen caught the ball in the post, spun left, worked back right, and finished a tough layup through contact to knot things up—and earn a trip to the line. He drilled the free throw to give the Gaels a lead that they would not surrender for the final 4:28. 

Saxen scored 14 points in the second half, and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the charity stripe. Aidan Mahaney added 10 second half points on four of five shooting, including a massive three following Saxen’s big shot. That pushed the Gaels ahead by two possessions down the stretch. Saint Mary's shot 55% from the field in the second half, and earned 22 free throw attempts to the Dons six in the frame. 

Mitchell Saxen led the Gaels with 20 points, his third 20+ point scoring effort of the season and fourth of his career. His 20 points were accompanied by 13 boards, for his first double-double of conference play. Alex Ducas added 18 points and six rebounds, while Aidan Mahaney chipped in 12 points and four boards. Augustas Marciulionis played the full 40 minutes, and while his scoring totals weren't as high as Gaels fans have become accustomed to seeing this season, he provided quality point guard play with a team-high four assists and just one turnover to go along with six points. Saint Mary's scored nearly half of their points in the paint, and the Gaels outrebounded the Dons by 13. 

Gaels Win Frontcourt Clash 

Mitchell Saxen and USF’s Jonathan Mogbo have proven to be two of the best rebounding, scoring big men in the WCC. SMC’s Mason Forbes and USF’s Ndewedo Newbury have served as excellent compliments to Saxen and Mogbo respectively. On Tuesday night, this battle of heavyweights went the way of the Gaels. Led by Saxen's 20, the Gaels frontcourt players—Saxen, Forbes, and Harry Wessels—combined for 30 points and 15 rebounds, while the Dons frontcourt—Mogbo, Newbury, and Volodymyr Markovetskyy—were limited to just nine points and 10 boards. As a team Saint Mary's outscored the Dons 34–24 in the paint and 13-0 in second chance scoring opportunities. The Gaels also outrebounded the Dons 36–23. 

Getting to the Stripe

Saint Mary's was fouled 23 times in this contest, a staple of their physical style of basketball. Mitchell Saxen alone was hacked nine times, while Alex Ducas was fouled four times. This led to 32 free throw attempts for the Gaels, their second highest total this season, after shooting 39 against Santa Clara three weeks ago. 

While the Gaels would like to convert at a higher clip than 69%—22 for 32—those 22 points were key to the Gaels’ victory against a very tough opponent. Saxen converted 8–10 free throw attempts, while Alex Ducas went 5–6 and Luke Barrett went 4–5. Harry Wessels was the only Gael to have a perfect clip at the charity stripe, converting on both of his freebie attempts. 

Let’s Talk Streaks 

This victory was the Gaels 14th consecutive win. Paired with UConn's loss to Creighton, this means the Gaels have the longest active winning streak in the nation. Fourteen consecutive wins marks the third longest winning streak in program history overall. The Gaels won 14 in a row in 2008–09 and a program record 19 in a row in 2017–18. Tuesday night’s win also marks their 13th consecutive conference win, matching the program record of 13 WCC wins in a row from the 2017–18 season. 

The Gaels also continued their streak of consecutive games with fewer than 10 turnovers. They’ve managed that now eight games in a row.

Saturday night Saint Mary’s hosts University of San Diego before they hit the road against Pepperdine, then bring it back home to host Gonzaga. If the Gaels win this Saturday night, they’re guaranteed to clinch a part of the 2024 WCC Regular Season title. But talk to Coach Randy Bennett and Gaels’ players, and they’re playing one game at a time, focusing on getting better each outing. And no doubt their sights are set on winning the conference outright.

UP NEXT: The Gaels have a few days to rest up before taking on San Diego on Saturday. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. on February 24 in UCU Pavilion. 

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