Photos by Tod Fierner (Martinez News-Gazette)
Saint Mary’s College
HARTFORD, Conn. — Saint Mary’s defeated Villanova nine years and one day ago to the date from Thursday but the same couldn’t be said in 2019 as the defending national champion Wildcats scratched out a 61-57 victory in XL Center to end the Gaels’ season.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts, the Gaels’ top two scorers during the season, provided 13 points each to lead the team. Saint Mary’s shot 42 percent overall in the loss and 36 percent from distance.
Saint Mary’s went punch for punch with Nova from outside the arc as they were 8-for-22 while the Wildcats shot 8-for-20. Villanova entered the game with the fourth most 3-point attempts in the country while the Gaels had held their opponents to shoot only 27 percent from three over their last eight contests.
Jordan Hunter scored six points and had two blocks in his final game as a Gael. The Australian center started all 34 contests for Saint Mary’s this year and had 120 career appearances, placing him just outside the program’s top-15 all-time.
Nova’s Phil Booth led all scorers in the game with 20 points while Eric Paschall contributed 14 for the Wildcats.
A close range jumped by Fitts put Saint Mary’s within four with 22 seconds to go. SMC got the ball back immediately after Paschall missed his 1-and-1 free throw at the other end but the Gaels couldn’t get their shot to drop on their next possession.
Saint Mary’s took a 30-28 lead into halftime. The Gaels’ attack was balanced in the first half as five players had five or more points and Ford, Fitts, and Krebs led with six. Six offensive boards allowed SMC to take seven more shots than the Wildcats in the opening 20.
After Villanova took a six point lead early, the Gaels answered with an 11-3 run to go ahead, 13-11. Matthias Tass hit his second triple of the season to put SMC up.
A quick 12-3 run within the first four minutes of the second half gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game to that point at seven. Nova never went ahead by more than eight for the rest of the half.
Midway through the final half, Saint Mary’s held Villanova to go 1-for-8 from the field but couldn’t capitalize as the Gaels were just 1-for-7 on offense during that stretch.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
- 6: Six times the score was tied and there were four lead changes overall.
- 7: Malik Fitts had seven rebounds to lead the team.
- 8: Saint Mary’s turned the ball over just eight times compared to 11 for Nova.
- 10: The Gaels had 10 offensive boards which led to 11 second chance points.
- 15: There were only 15 free throws in the game, nine of which went to Villanova.
THOUGHTS FROM HEAD COACH RANDY BENNETT
- Randy Bennett: “It was fun to be part of the tournament and a good basketball game. I am proud of our guys and I am proud of what they have done this year.”