In a bit of a surprise, the St. Mary's Gaels stampeded past the Stanford Cardinal in the second half of tonight's game, 78-61, behind the scoring of guards Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon, and a huge team rebounding advantage. The win boosts Gaels' record to 3-0, and drops the Cardinal (in their first away game -- albeit, you know, still in the Bay) to 2-2. This game, by the way, marked the first time Stanford had played in McKeon Pavilion since 1988.
The game was fairly even through the first 20 minutes, with Reid Travis and Marcus Allen leading the Cardinals to a 37-33 first-half lead. Marcus, who had been responsible for galvanizing Stanford in the first half as he scored all 14 of his points, picked up his 4th foul just 5:18 into the second half, which took a toll on the Stanford offense. Twin brother Malcolm Allen, Dorian Pickens and Christian Sanders had to pick up the perimeter slack, but none of them was having a particularly great shooting night -- Marcus went 6-for-11 for 14 points, while Malcolm was 1-of-3 for 4, Pickens just 2-of-9 for 10 points (most of his scoring caming at the charity stripe), and Sanders only took 4 shots in 19 minutes!
With St. Mary's up only 54-50 and just 8:40 left in the second half, it looked like anyone's game. But that's when things unraveled. It started, appropriately enough, with game co-MVP Emmett Naar -- St. Mary's other game MVP: Naar's backcourt-mate and fellow sophomore Joe Rahon. The 6'1" Naar made a trey off a clutch Jock Landale dish, and suddenly it was on. The Gaels proceeded to embark on a 17-4 scoring tear over the ensuing 5 minutes and 35 seconds of game play, capitalizing on 4 Cardinal turnovers and 4 Cardinal fouls combined with a 6:2 St. Mary's rebounding advantage. Big men Evan Fitzner and Dane Pineau were huge on the defensive end during that stretch, collecting 4 boards, 1 block and 1 steal. The scoring margin would never be closer than 15 points again.
On offense, especially during the second half, Joe Rahon (ranked 5th in the nation in assists heading into this game) got whatever he wanted inside, exploiting gaps in the paint for easy lay-ups. He had 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting, 6 boards, 3 assists and a steal. His starting backcourt mate, Emmett Naar, was similarly efficient, notching 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting (including going 3-of-4 on treys), 6 boards and 6 assists. Both are essentially point guards, as ESPN's broadcasters were wont to point out, and they ran the floor well. Their court awareness (and Naar's on-point long-ball shooting touch) contributed greatly to the team's tremendous three-point shooting advantage over Stanford, 56.3% (9-of-16) to 28.6% (4-of-14).
The other massive disparity that had a big impact was the two squads' rebounding differentials. St. Mary's had 34 rebounds total, Stanford just 24. Specifically, the Gaels pulled down 23 defensive rebounds, 8 better than the Cardinal could manage. Rebounding duties were distributed fairly evenly between Fitzner (6) and Pineau (5) and, crucially, Naar and Rahon (6 each). No Stanford guard had more than 3 boards (Sanders), though big man Travis had 7, along with 4 assists and a team-leading 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Though Stanford still logged double-digit turnovers (10), St. Mary's was equally sloppy. Still, though, this is something to clean up.
After two double-digit losses to two mediocre squads (albeit, two mediocre squads off to hot starts), the second with their full available rotation for the year on the floor (6'9" back-up senior center Grant Verhoeven returned from injury and saw 14 minutes of scoreless action tonight), the Cardinal need to reassess their plan moving forward. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think Christian Sanders needs more run. Obviously the Allen brothers are both shaking off rust after their respective injuries, but until they get fully comfortable (Malcolm with his shooting, Marcus with controlling his fouls so he can stay on the floor for 32+ minutes a game), the bigger Sanders (6'4") could help curb the massive rebounding disadvantage the back court has been vulnerable to. Here's hoping they can get back to the winners' circle Thursday at Villanova.