NCAA Basketball

No. 22 Saint Mary's brushes aside Loyola Marymount

(TSX / STATS) -- MORAGA, Calif. -- Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett is trying not to spend time calculating what his No. 22 Gaels need to do to get into the NCAA Tournament.

"It's in the back of your mind," he said. "It's there. If you say it's not, you're crazy. This was a good step."

The good step consisted of the Gaels' 81-48 rout of Loyola Marymount on Thursday in a West Coast Conference game at McKeon Pavilion.

Saint Mary's (23-3, 13-2 WCC) responded well after a home loss to top-ranked Gonzaga on Saturday, a result that virtually eliminated any chance the Gaels had of getting a piece of the WCC regular-season title.

"Coming back after that Gonzaga game, this was a good bounce-back game," Bennett said. "I thought we played well. I didn't see this game going that way."

Unlike the struggle they had while getting past the Lions in the teams' first meeting, the Gaels shot 59.6 percent from the field this time while beating Loyola Marymount (12-14, 5-10) for the 11th time in a row.

Gaels center Jock Landale scored all of his game-high 16 points in the first half. He also collected 11 rebounds even though he played only three minutes of the second half.

Saint Mary's forward Evan Fitzner scored all of his season-high 13 points in the first half as well.

The only Gaels starter who played in the final 10 minutes was point guard Joe Rahon.

The top scorer for Loyola Marymount was Brandon Brown, who scored 10 points.

"I thought we played incredibly hard," Lions coach Mike Dunlap said, "but we had two problems. We missed too many at-the-rim shots, and our foul shooting, just 43 percent (6 of 14). You can't do those things on the road against a Top 25 team."

The Gaels are two games behind first-place Gonzaga with just three regular-season games left, so Saint Mary's reset its goal to getting into an NCAA Tournament berth.

The Gaels failed to make the NCAA Tournament field last season despite having a 27-5 record when the selections were announced.

Beating a team like Loyola Marymount is a prerequisite to earning at at-large berth, if that is what is needed. Saint Mary's faces a bigger challenge on Saturday in its road game against the Brigham Young Cougars, whose only home loss in conference play was against Gonzaga.

"It's always tough going in there," said Fitzner, who played just two minutes and went scoreless in the first game against Loyola Marymount, "so we have to forget this game."

Bennett said, "We have less than 48 hours to get ready."

Saint Mary's should be well rested at least.

The Gaels held a 21-point lead at halftime and scored the first nine points of the second half to expand the gap to 55-25 with 17:01 left.

The Lions, who shot just 38 percent from the floor, never got closer than 21 points after that.

Saint Mary's took control of the game in the early going. The Gaels shot 64 percent in the first half, which ended with the home team holding a comfortable 46-25 lead.

"We separated early, and we needed that," Bennett said. "We need spurtability, and tonight we did it offensively."

The Lions had only one effective weapon in the early going, their pressure defense. After not committing a turnover in the first 12 minutes of the first half, the Gaels turned the ball over eight times in the next eight minutes.

Eventually, though, the Gaels starting finding holes in the Lions' defense for easy shots.

"What they did was they cut us up with the pass," Dunlap said, "and then we got so far down."

NOTES: Saint Mary's won for the 23rd time in the past 24 meetings with Loyola Marymount. ... The Gaels beat the Lions 72-60 in Los Angeles on Dec. 29, but it was a one-point game with 11 minutes remaining. ... Saint Mary's began play Thursday ranked second nationally in scoring defense, yielding 56.6 points per game. ... Eleven of Loyola Marymount's games were decided in the final 10 seconds. The Lions are 4-7 in the games. ... Loyola Marymount returns home for a game against San Francisco on Saturday.

Updated February 17, 2017

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