MORAGA, CA—That’s the way you end 2012.
But if you had watched the first half and saw Saint Mary’s down 18 points at home, there would have been no way you thought they would win.
Saint Mary’s chipped away at the once-sizeable Harvard lead and a pair of Mitchell Young free throws with 1.1 seconds put the Gaels up for good as they won 70-69 in the Shamrock Office Solutions Shootout on New Year’s Eve.
Not a bad way to enter West Coast Conference play.
“We haven’t had a close game this year,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said. “You just don’t get in that situation, are able to come back, and actually win the game very often. You don’t want to be in that spot but you can gain a lot of confidence as a team from that.”
Harvard (7-6) had possession of the ball and led 69-68 with 21 seconds when Laurent Rivard fell to the floor and threw the ball out of bounds, giving the Gaels (11-3) the last shot of the game.
After a timeout with 13 seconds, the shot came to Matthew Dellavedova who took a fadeaway jumper that banked off the rim. Young was there to clean up the rebound with 1.1 seconds and was fouled.
Young entered the game shooting 69 percent from the free throw line for the season and had shot 60 percent for his career. But this was the situation he practiced for.
“If you put in the time and put in the reps, and that’s something I have done,” Young said. “It paid off tonight.”
“That’s the exact situation you shoot them for.”
Young finished with 16 points and eight rebounds for Saint Mary’s. He was also 4-for-4 from the line.
“When he came, he wasn’t a very good throw shooter and he’s worked and worked and worked,” Bennett said. “Now he gets in that situation, he’s prepared.”
The Gaels came in the second half with a renewed determination on offense and the spurt was driven by Jorden Page.
The junior guard hit his first three shots of the second half and a three from the corner with 15:22 left cut the Harvard lead to 44-37 and brought the McKeon Pavilion crown to a fever pitch.
“Coach got on us pretty hard,” Saint Mary’s guard James Walker II said. “They came to play, they came out and hit us in the mouth and we had to respond.”
Walker had a pair of threes in the early run and finished with 12 points.
But much as they had done most of the night every time Saint Mary’s scores, Harvard answered.
Harvard scored three straight, then Saint Mary’s scored three. Harvard’s Siyani Chambers hit a three, then Young converted a layup.
Saint Mary’s got within four points on a couple of occasions but could not get a stop against the Harvard offense.
A Jonah Travis dunk put Harvard up 68-58 and it was almost the dagger for Harvard.
“We were going to have to make the run then and that’s when we started pressing,” Bennett said. “We just kept our composure.”
Saint Mary’s did not allow another basket as they got six points from Young down the stretch.
Harvard jumped on Saint Mary’s quickly and pounded them inside early, just like Yale had done on Sunday.
Travis scored six of the Crimson’s first eight points, four on layups, to give Harvard a 9-3 lead. A dunk by Wesley Saunders capped a 9-1 Harvard run and put them up 13-3.
Saint Mary’s was ice cold to begin the game, hitting only one of its first seven shots. But the Gaels fought back and were able to get within two behind a 9-1 run of their own.
Then the shots stopped falling and Harvard kept the points coming.
Travis converted on a layup. Then Steve Moundou-Missi scored five straight points. Saunders picked Dellavedova’s pocket and got the fastbreak layup. And it kept coming.
Harvard went on an 18-2 run in the middle of the first half and held the Gaels without a point for more than three minutes.
Dellavedova, who scored 24 points in their win against Yale the previous night, did not score his first points until late in the half. He shot 1-for-13 from the field but managed to pick up nine assists.
Saint Mary’s shot 22 percent in the half and hit one three.
Saint Mary’s plays its first WCC game on Saturday when they host Loyola Marymount. The Lions beat Saint Mary’s in Moraga last season but have struggled to be consistent in the preseason.
The game is at 1:30 p.m.
Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @Zack_Farmer