St. Mary’s bests Cal men’s basketball 74-63

Debbie Yuen/Staff

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Playing at home is typically an advantage for a team. From the cheering crowd to the court you practice on daily, there’s something exciting about winning on your own turf. Haas Pavilion, packed with 7,831 people Saturday night, was sadly disappointed as the Cal men’s basketball team (3-5) lost to St. Mary’s (6-2), 74-63.

The Gaels started the game on 10-1 run, keeping the Bears scoreless from the field until senior Marcus Lee hit a jumper more than four minutes into the game. After the first time out, however, Cal found its rhythm, cutting the lead to two by way of the charity stripe. Lee’s defense on senior Jock Landale, St. Mary’s leading scorer, kept the Bears close, as Landale only scored 8 points in the first half and struggled with foul trouble throughout the game.

Despite Lee’s solid defensive performance, the Bears’ overall defense was porous, allowing redshirt senior Calvin Hermanson to score 19 points in the first half alone. The majority of Hermanson’s buckets came on fast break opportunities when the Bears failed to get back on defense, allowing the Gaels to stretch their lead to double digits by halftime.

Down by 14 points entering the second half, freshmen Justice Sueing and Juhwan Harris-Dyson led Cal’s comeback attempt, instigating a 7-2 run that cut the lead to nine. Cal’s zone defense caused trouble for St. Mary’s usual pick and roll, but it wasn’t long before the Gaels adapted and started to break away. Sophomore Jordan Ford stepped in for St. Mary’s and put an end to Cal’s brief run, finishing with a career-high 17 points.

Needing an offensive barrage to keep them close, the Bears turned to freshman Darius McNeill and junior Don Coleman. But the starting Cal backcourt struggled mightily, as the pair combined for just 11 points on 23 shots, a performance that won’t get the job done against almost any opponent.

That’s not to say that the Bears were completely trounced. In a change of pace from throughout most of this season, senior guard Nick Hamilton and Lee were the scoring leaders for Cal throughout the night. Hamilton was near perfect, going 7-7 on field goals and 2-2 on 3-pointers, while Lee totaled a season-high 23 points, keeping the Bears within striking distance despite the rough night from Coleman and McNeill.

But trading baskets in the second half favored their opponents, as Cal continued to miss opportunities to cut into the lead. The Bears committed 12 turnovers, none more costly than several travel calls that killed their offensive rhythm. The Gaels also shot 21 free throws, compared to Cal’s 11 — not a good recipe for success when St. Mary’s ranks sixth in the nation in free throw percentage. Add on the offensive struggles from McNeill and Coleman, and Cal’s deficit throughout the game was too much to overcome.

While Cal’s half-court trap was somewhat successful, the smaller mistakes, such as turnovers and free throw margin, limited the Bears’ opportunities. Lee and Hamilton proved their worth and kept Cal in the game, but the team needs to learn to play consistently as a whole if it wants to recover from a somewhat sluggish start to the season.

Sophie Durham covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].