After recording a critical road win over Dayton on Saturday that could define its season, 15th-ranked St. Mary's returns home for a game against San Jose State on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET) at Moraga, Calif.
The Gaels (3-0) play only three non-conference games away from home this season and one of those is on a neutral court. The game at Dayton, which shared the Atlantic 10 regular-season title last season and was picked to win it again this season, figured to be a measuring stick for the Gaels in their bid to earn an NCAA Tournament berth this season.
St. Mary's dominated most of that game, moving out to a 20-point lead with 8:20 left before Dayton closed to within two with 25 seconds remaining. The Gaels held on for a 61-57 win, leaving a Nov. 30 game at Stanford as their only remaining non-conference game on their opponent's home court.
Article continues below ...
“This was a good win in a tough environment,” St. Mary's coach head coach Randy Bennett said after the win over Dayton. “It was certainly a good test for our team early in the season.”
The Gaels won despite shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and going 8 of 26 from 3-point range.
St. Mary's, which returns all five starters from last season, hit 40.6 percent of its 3-pointers last season, and the Gaels' combination of usually reliable outside shooting and the inside dominance of Jock Landale, who had 15 points and 14 rebounds against Dayton, makes them difficult to defend.
“I don't know that anybody has answers against them,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “They're able to do what they do against anybody. We won't be the only team that struggles against them.”
Landale, the only player in the Gaels' starting lineup who was not a starter last season, is averaging 17.0 points on 71.1 percent shooting and 10.3 rebounds in the first three games. Emmett Naar, an all-conference selection last season, is averaging 9.0 assists.
The Gaels will be favorites at home against San Jose State, which will be playing its first game away from home.
The Spartans (1-2) opened with a 109-70 victory over West Coast Baptist, but then lost to Portland 79-66 on Nov. 15 and to Denver 74-69 on Saturday.
The Spartans had three chances in the final minute to tie the game against Denver, but Isaac Thornton missed a 3-pointer with 51 seconds left and San Jose State committed two turnovers in the final 10 seconds.
“This one hurts,” said Spartans head coach Dave Wojcik after the Portland loss. “We didn't execute. And we didn't execute on the defensive side of the ball. They shot 67 percent from the field in the second half and we got out rebounded by 10. You can't beat teams when that happens.”
San Jose State 6-foot-8 sophomore Brandon Clarke, the Mountain West sixth man of the year last season, leads the team in scoring (17.0 points per game) and rebounding (8.0).
The Spartans have three players who can hit from long range, with Jalen James (6 of 11), Ryan Welage (8 of 16) and E.J. Boyce (7 of 14) all making at least half of their 3-point attempts.
The Spartans will need to hit their perimeter shots to give the Gaels a challenge.