PROVO — It's hard to take a compliment after incurring a tough overtime loss at home, but Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett dealt out a good one BYU's way after his team escaped with a 74-64 overtime win on Saturday.
"It's weird. I think they have less talent this year, but they're better," Bennett said. "BYU coach) Dave (Rose) knows his team better than me, but I just know they're grittier this year."
The Cougars showed little grit going against Saint Mary's last season. After taking an 81-68 loss to the Gaels on the road, things got progressively worse in the form of a 70-57 loss that wasn't as close as the score would indicate at home and then an 81-50 thumping in the West Coast Conference tournament.
But it was a completely different Cougar team Saint Mary's faced this time around.
"Their defense is grittier. Their offense — they're more patient and they play more unselfish," Bennett observed. "So yeah, they're playing better and we feel fortunate to get out of here with a win. So I think they have a good team."
Indeed, Saint Mary's trailed for most of Saturday afternoon's game before taking a lead late in regulation and then dominating the five-minute overtime period. While different players stepped up late, it was junior center Jock Landale carrying the Gaels with some extremely efficient play. The 6-foot-11 Australia native dominated the lowpost on the offensive end, going 13-15 from the field for a game-high 31 points, while pulling down 13 rebounds, also a game high.
"I think he took his time down there," Bennett said. "They played him pretty straight-up, and helped a little off the strong side with their guards, but check his numbers. He's a pretty efficient player."
A check of Landale's numbers shows 21.1 points scored per game on .643 percent shooting from the field, both which were surpassed by a wide margin on Saturday.
Bennett was also happy with his big man's ability to stay efficient over the course of 44 minutes played, stating, "To do it for that long was impressive."
For the game, Bennett was impressed with his team's ability to hang around despite BYU's much-improved overall play from a year ago, along with trailing for almost all of the second half.
"I thought it was a great college basketball game and it was fun to be a part of it," Bennett said. "That game goes five more minutes and it's probably a tie game again. That's just how the game went … we just hung in and hung in, and then we made our run at the right time. But making a run was getting up just five."
While it was Landale who largely kept the Gaels hanging around, it was others who largely finished the Cougars off late — particularly Emmett Naar and Calvin Hermanson, who both hit huge 3-pointers. Hermanson's was perhaps the biggest dagger, swishing through a wide-open look at the 1:08 mark of the overtime period to give the Gaels a commanding 70-62 lead.
"That's what seniors do. That's what they're supposed to do," Bennett said, commenting on Hermanson's final 3-pointer, specifically. "Credit BYU for doing a good job on him. They know Calvin, they know how to guard him, but when he needed to hit one he hit one."