On a night when junior guard Kevin Foster passed Steve Nash to become the No. 4 leading scorer in Santa Clara history and junior forward Niyi Harrison produced a career-high 23 points, the Broncos fell 93-77 to the No. 23 Saint Mary’s Gaels.
Following the game, Santa Clara remained in the West Coast Conference cellar, having lost all five of their WCC matchups and extended their losing streak to six games.
Things started out well.
Foster hit his first three of the night and was 4-of-5 from beyond the arc at halftime.
The team made more than half of their shots from the field and led 47-46 through 20 minutes.
“We did what we wanted to do,” said Keating about his team’s effort in the first half.
The first few minutes of the second half went well.
Junior guard Raymond Cowels swatted Saint Mary’s Jorden Page.
The team played disciplined basketball—four of the five fouls called in the first three minutes went against Saint Mary’s.
Harrison’s dunk in transition got the sellout crowd of 4,700 producing at a decibel level that threatened to shatter the windows surrounding the Leavey Center.
Then, before you could say "upset"…
Junior Matthew Dellavedova, the team’s leading scorer and a product of head coach Randy Bennett’s pipeline to Australia, put the Gaels ahead 65-64 with 10 minutes to go.
Two minutes later Santa Clara gets called for goaltending and Saint Mary’s goes up 72-66.
At six minutes Santa Clara called timeout with the score 74-66 and Harrison and freshman John McArthur at four fouls.
At just a hair under the five-minute mark Keating’s got a technical foul for arguing with the officials.
At that point the game was out of reach.
Saint Mary’s was up 79-68.
McArthur would foul out with two minutes to go.
And then…depression set in.
Santa Clara would be outscored in the paint 48-28, be outrebounded 53-38 and shoot just north of 25 percent from the field in the second half—an effort to beat a ranked team in front of the first sellout crowd in two years would come up short.
“We played the way we wanted to against them,” mused Keating, “and, as has been the case in the BYU and certainly the Gonzaga, [and] now the Saint Mary’s game, we played really well in the first half and now we have to carry over and play well in the second half.”
Santa Clara played at their best when they were scoring in transition.
Unfortunately, shoddy defense and over-officiating (there were 55 total fouls called in a 40-minute contest) slowed down the up-tempo game the Broncos wanted to play.
Said Keating: “The game got taken away, it got physical, and we couldn’t get going in transition where we were successful in the first half of the game and the first part of the second half.”
“We had our chance to finish possessions in the defensive end and unfortunately that hurt us because we couldn’t get going in transition,” he continued. “If a team shoots 45 free throws against you, it’s hard to get into the flow, to really get accomplished what we’re trying to get accomplished.”
He appeared particularly vexed about the team’s rebounding.
“We had a chance to get some stops and we didn’t’ come up with the finished product, with some rebounds,” he said, shaking his head.
“That hurts as well—too many offensive rebounds.”
Keating praised Foster and Harrison for their efforts, but acknowledged that their production dropped in the second half—especially Foster, who was 1-of-6 from the field and 1-of-3 beyond the arc in the last 20 minutes.
“They had good practices this week and it carried over,” he said. “We’re trying to go back to those guys when we needed some baskets and weren’t successful doing that.”
He also heaped praise on Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s superstar who ended the contest with 26 points.
“Everyone wants to talk about how they lost Omar [Samhan] and Mickey [McConnell],” he said. “Dellavedova was on those teams too. He’s been the most important player on that program since Day 1 and he’s proven that from Day 1.”
At 8-10, 0-5 in the WCC, Santa Clara will have to win the WCC tournament in Vegas in order to dance in March.
Unfortunately, they will have to play WCC opponents in the Sin City.
Although they are currently ranked, Saint Mary’s (18-2, 9-0) will probably have to win that tournament as well.
While Gonzaga (16-3, 6-1) scheduled Notre Dame, Illinois, Michigan State, Arizona, Butler and Xavier to build RPI this season, Saint Mary’s was busy playing North Carolina A&T, Bethune-Cookman, Kennesaw State, the Little Sisters of the Blind and the Seven Dwarves.
Santa Clara will get another shot at the Gaels on February 11 in Moraga.
Tom Schreier is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report.
Follow him @tschreier3.