Saint Mary’s comes up short again, leaving them with work to do before conference play begins.
(@saintmaryshoops and @smcgaels)
By Ryan Ford
After six straight victories to open the campaign, including a 5-0 start at UCU Pavilion to tie and break the school record for consecutive home victories, the Gaels have lost back to back games for the first time since 2020.
Saint Mary’s fell to the visiting New Mexico Lobos on Wednesday night, 69-65, despite a hot start that saw them take a 13-2 lead in the opening minutes. The Lobos responded, seizing the narrow lead at the end of the first half and never looked back.
This victory pushes New Mexico to 7-0 on the season, while the Gaels (who entered as 9.5 point favorites) fall to 6-2 and now trail San Francisco for the top spot in the WCC standings.
Here are some of the main takeaways from last night’s loss as well as surprises from early in the season.
Gaels Lose Another Nail-Biter
Saint Mary’s first loss of the season, a Thanksgiving Day clash with the Washington Huskies, ended in overtime after the Gaels made a huge push in the second half led by starting center Mitchell Saxen.
Saxen tied his season-high with 19 points, converting nine of his 14 shot attempts in the contest, including 11 in the second half and overtime. But the junior big man’s efforts weren't enough, as the Huskies pulled out the victory 68-64.
Six days later, the Gaels’ matchup with the Lobos ended in an almost identical score. And again, the Gaels failed to make the plays when it mattered most to secure the victory.
Senior guard Alex Ducas led all players with 25 points (matching his career-high), shooting 70% from the floor and knocking down all eight of his free throw attempts. But the rest of the team combined to score 40 points, making only 14 of their 37 shot attempts and converting an abysmal 47% of their trips to the free throw line.
In front of a nearly sold out home crowd, and following their first loss of the season, Head Coach Randy Bennett cannot be happy with consecutive showings of lackluster finishes and inefficient team play from a veteran group that has been in plenty of big games over the years.
Surprises: Stellar Contributions From First-Years Continue
By the time March Madness came around last season and the Gaels were competing in high leverage, winner-take-all matchups against some of the best teams in the country, Bennett was no longer giving any first-year players regular playing time. In fact, no underclassmen logged more than 10 minutes of playing time over the team’s final five contests.
But this year, the youth movement is in full force for Bennett’s squad.
Freshman guard Aidan Mahaney has continued his hot start, currently ranking third on the team with 12.9 points per game while leading the team in three-point scoring at an efficient 36.7% clip. Mahaney appears destined for a spot in the starting lineup sooner rather than later if he keeps this up.
Freshman center Harry Wessels has also earned rotation minutes as Saxen’s primary backup. The 7 '1, 255 pound Aussie has appeared in all eight games this season, and with fellow big man Matt Van Komen still recovering from a foot injury, Wessels has the opportunity to solidify his role going forward if he can continue to provide a punch defensively off the bench.
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Ryan Ford '23,