MORAGA, Calif. (AP) Jock Landale had a pretty good time spending his night going against BYU’s 6-foot-10-inch sophomore Eric Mika in a battle of two of the West Coast Conference’s top big men.
The 6-11 center from Saint Mary’s enjoyed passing for six assists that led to 15 points for the Gaels even more.
Landale had 24 points and eight rebounds to help offset another big game from Mika and the 19th-ranked Gaels pulled away in the second half to beat the Cougars 81-68 on Thursday night.
Saint Mary’s top scorer coming into the game, Landale was the focal point of the Gaels’ offense while also trying to defend Mika, the second-leading scorer in the WCC. Mika finished with 28 points – one shy of his career-high set earlier this season – and 10 rebounds.
“It’s so much fun going against someone who’s that good,” Landale said. “He’s a great guy as well so there was a little banter back and forth. It is a lot of fun going against someone who’s hard to guard and knowing you’re hard to guard as well.”
Landale had more fun, and was equally effective, when he passed out to the perimeter whenever BYU tried collapsing in the paint with a double-team. His six assists doubled Landale’s previous career-high and were critical in getting the Gaels’ outside shooting going.
Calvin Hermanson scored 15 points, Emmett Naar added 15 on three 3-pointers and Joe Rahon had 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds for Saint Mary’s.
“Having people like that out on the 3-point line where we don’t always have to go to me, we can go to other people, it makes us so much harder to guard,” Landale said. “It’s great having a supporting cast like that.”
Naar said Landale’s passing helped open up the offense.
“It adds a lot more to our game going inside, then out,” Naar said. “It makes it easier for me, Joe and Cal as shooters because he can score, defenses have to focus in on him.”
The Gaels (13-1, 3-0) have won seven straight since suffering their lone loss of the season at home against UT Arlington on Dec. 8.
Landale got the better of Mika late, scoring twice on putbacks to go with a basket in the paint over the final 6 minutes before checking out of the game to a rousing ovation with 1:15 remaining.
It’s only Saint Mary’s third win in the past seven games against BYU.
“Landale, any time we helped, he found the open guy,” Cougars coach Dave Rose said. “He just played great as far as his decision-making. He really makes that team difficult to guard.”
The Cougars (11-5, 2-1) suffered their first loss in conference and their first defeat since Dec. 17 despite Mika’s big game. The sophomore shot 12 of 17 in 27 minutes.
Much of the first half centered around a battle between the big men. The duo spent most of the first half banging into one another in the paint while shouldering the scoring load for their respective teams early.
The difference was Saint Mary’s shooting from the perimeter. The Gaels went 6 of 13 from beyond the arc and shot 64.3 percent overall to take a 44-36 halftime lead.
BYU: Mika has scored 20 or more points in eight games this season. … The Cougars got off to another slow start and the 36 points were their third-fewest in a first half this season. BYU also had just two offensive rebounds before the break.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels remain on course for a showdown with undefeated No. 5 Gonzaga on Jan. 14 in Spokane but coach Randy Bennett’s squad continues to do a good job focusing on the task at hand. Landale didn’t have the numbers that Mika did but proved he is one of the WCC’s elite centers. He also had plenty of scoring support, one of the staples of Bennett’s offense.
The Gaels aren’t likely to make much movement based off this one game and it won’t matter at all if they can’t hold serve on the road in San Francisco over the weekend.
BITS AND PIECES
Rose was pleased with his team’s effort but noted that the Cougars’ lack of consistency was a pivotal factor in their four-game losing streak coming to an end. Mika, for instance, was held scoreless for the final 11 minutes while BYU managed only four baskets over the last 7. “There are pieces of this game that were good for us,” Rose said. “It just wasn’t for 40 minutes.”
BYU: Hosts Pacific on Saturday.
Saint Mary’s: Takes a short ride across the Bay Bridge to play at San Francisco on Saturday night.