Landale powers Saint Mary's past VCU
SALT LAKE CITY -- Faced with waves of pressure on both ends of the court, Saint Mary's stuck to the formula that has served it so well this season. The Gaels crashed the boards, stayed patient on offense and bottled up most of VCU's shooters on defense.
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It helped Saint Mary's survive both a second-half rally and end-of-game dry shooting spell and allowed the seventh-seeded Gaels to collect an 85-77 victory over the 10th seeded Rams in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
Saint Mary's (29-4) bent under VCU's relentless pressure. The Gaels never actually broke. They shot 55.6 percent from the field (25 of 45) and edged the Rams 37-29 in rebounds.
"We knew the majority of their points came from transition and offensive rebounding," center Jock Landale said. "We just had to cut that out and we did."
Landale scored 18 points and collected 13 rebounds to lead Saint Mary's. He finished with his 16th double-double of the season. Joe Rahon and Calvin Hermanson chipped in 16 points apiece for the Gaels, who had five players score in double figures.
Saint Mary's earned a second-round matchup Saturday against second-seeded Arizona, a 100-82 winner over North Dakota.
JeQuan Lewis scored 30 points to lead VCU. The Rams (26-9) rallied in the second half after falling behind by 15 points at halftime -- their largest halftime deficit of the season. That rally fell short, in part, because they could not overcome 15.4 percent shooting (2 of 13) from the perimeter.
Without the outside shots falling, VCU struggled to dictate the tempo and speed up Saint Mary's like the Rams desired.
"They do a good job of playing their pace and they don't let teams beat them up," Lewis said. "They didn't let us beat them up today. They move the ball on offense. They use the whole shot clock. They'll pass up a good shot for a great shot."
VCU started out aggressive on offense. The Rams slashed to the rim repeatedly and made six layups in the first eight minutes. They took a 16-13 lead on the final one in that batch from Jonathan Williams.
Saint Mary's eventually imposed its usual defensive will as the first half progressed. A pair of baskets from Londale and back-to-back 3-pointers from Hermanson highlighted a 14-2 spurt that gave the Gaels a 27-18 lead with 7:31 left in the first half.
VCU could not stop it from happening. The Rams missed seven of eight shots over a five-minute stretch and went nearly three minutes without scoring.
Once in front, the Gaels simply buried VCU in an increasingly larger hole. Saint Mary's opened up its first double-digit lead on a dunk from Tanner Krebs and took its largest first-half lead at 46-29 behind back-to-back layups from Krebs and Emmett Naar.
Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett credited his team's effort on the glass with being the biggest difference maker in helping the Gaels get on top and stay there.
"I was pleased with how we rebounded," Bennett said. "That was key going into this game and we did a pretty good job there. We didn't do a good job on their guard (JeQuan) Lewis and we didn't do a good job and we didn't do a good job stopping their transition. Fortunately, we did a really good job on rebounding."
Sloppy play opened the door for the Rams to rally after halftime. VCU capitalized on three consecutive Saint Mary's turnovers, scoring baskets on each one. Jordan Burgess punctuated the flurry by slashing to the rim for a layup and cutting the Gaels' lead to 54-45.
The Rams continued to chip away at the lead and pulled within 56-54 on a pair of free throws from Williams. Dane Pineau kept them from erasing the lead entirely. He blocked a layup attempt on one end and scored one of his own on the other. Rahon followed with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer a short time later, pushing the Gaels' lead to 63-56 with 8:17 remaining.
"We've been through situations like this before," Rahon said. "It was like earlier in the year when we were at Dayton -- the same thing happened and we learned from that. They cut it to two and we used our experience and responded."
Hermanson dialed up a 3-pointer and threw down a dunk to put the Gaels back up by double digits, giving them a 73-63 lead with 4:34 left. Saint Mary's did not score another field goal after that point, but VCU could pull no closer than six points the rest of the way.
"They couldn't quite knock us out," Rams coach Will Wade said. "But we could never get over the hump and get the lead in the second half or get it tied. We got it to two and could never get over the hump."
NOTES: VCU G JeQuan Lewis scored 30 or more points for just the second time this season. Lewis totaled a season-high 34 points against St. Joseph's on Feb. 14. ... Saint Mary's improved to 5-8 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. Four of those wins have come since 2009. ... The Rams scored 19 points off 15 Saint Mary's turnovers. VCU also coughed up nine turnovers, leading to 15 points for the Gaels. ... Saint Mary's had 13 assists on 25 field goals.