SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Saint Mary’s got a familiar test from Wisconsin’s defense at an unfamiliar venue.
Jordan Ford scored 26 points, Malik Fitts added 16 and the 20th-ranked Gaels hung on to beat Wisconsin 65-63 in overtime in the season opener for both teams on Tuesday night.
“Wisconsin is hard to get baskets on,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We just kept grinding and making them work, covering the on-balls and just tried to wear them out.”
Saint Mary’s led the entire second half before Wisconsin closed the gap and took a brief lead in overtime. But Fitts’ basket with 55 seconds to play gave the Gaels the lead for good.
Freshman Kyle Bowen hit 1 of 2 free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining for the Gaels, and Wisconsin had a chance to win it, but Aleem Ford’s deep 3-pointer at the buzzer was short.
Aleem Ford made a layup with 52 seconds left that tied the game at 54, and he also had a 3-point attempt to win it in regulation that missed just before the buzzer. He finished with seven points.
It was the Gaels’ first visit to the Sanford Pentagon, which will also welcome Minnesota and Oklahoma for a game on Saturday.
Saint Mary’s went on a 21-3 run that erased an eight-point deficit and put the Gaels ahead 30-20 just before the break. Wisconsin went without a field goal for a six-minute stretch.
Jordan Ford, a first-team All-West Coast Conference player last year, fueled the run, scoring 15 points all in the final seven minutes of the half, including three 3-pointers. He finished the night 11-for-24 from the field, including 4-for-8 from beyond the arc.
“I was just feeling out the game, feeling out how they were playing us,” Ford said. “It only takes one or two shots to get me going. Once I got one 3 down, I was really aggressive and I think it helped our offense.”
After Wisconsin cut it to 44-40 with just over 10 minutes to play, the Gaels increased it to 50-41 with a 6-1 run capped by a pair of nifty moves down the lane by Fitts.
Wisconsin didn’t fade, however, and Nate Reuvers’ 3-pointer with 4:08 to play cut it to 50-49.
The Badgers shot 42.3% from the field while the Gaels finished at 39.3%. Saint Mary’s out-rebounded Wisconsin 36-28, including 13 on the offensive end, led by Mattias Tass with rebounds.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels got a strong test early in the season from a Big Ten opponent that never let them build a big lead. Saint Mary’s was the second-ranked team in the West Coast Conference in the preseason, behind No. 8 Gonzaga.
Wisconsin: The Badgers were picked to finish sixth out of 14 teams in the Big Ten. Their conference opener is Dec. 7 against Indiana.
D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin’s top returning scorer, wasn’t a threat most of the night and finished with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting. He missed his only field goal attempt in the first half. His first basket was a 3-pointer early in the second half. Trice rimmed out a wide-open 3-pointer with Wisconsin trailing 54-52 with 1:37 remaining.
HE SAID IT
“This is a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life, just because this place is just so cool.” — Bennett on playing at the Sanford Pentagon.