MORAGA, Calif. (AP) - Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett was concerned enough about how Rob Jones would play against his former team that he addressed the San Diego game before the season even began.
Jones kept his composure and sparked a key second-half run, getting 18 points and 13 rebounds in his first game against the Toreros since transferring, and No. 22 Saint Mary's celebrated its first ranking in nearly two years with a 67-56 victory Wednesday night.
``It's just like an open gym game, nothing peculiar, just guys on the other end of the floor you want to get a win against,' Jones said. ``That's how I treated it.'
Mickey McConnell scored 17 points and Matthew Dellavedova added 12 to help Bennett earn his 200th career win as the Gaels (17-2, 5-0 West Coast Conference) won their 11th straight. Saint Mary's is ranked for the first time since also being No. 22 on Jan. 26, 2009.
The only two losses for Saint Mary's have come against teams currently ranked in the top 10 - No. 6 San Diego State and No. 9 BYU. But the schedule gets much stiffer for the Gaels, who travel to Vanderbilt for a nonconference game on Saturday before taking their toughest trip of the conference season next week to Gonzaga and Portland.
``If you get a win in these games, it's a big boost,' Bennett said. ``That's how we're going to approach it and go from there. Probably the past seven or eight games have been games we're supposed to win. That's a lot of pressure.'
Darian Norris scored 14 points and Matt Dorr added 13 for the Toreros (3-16, 0-5), who have lost five straight but made this one tough for a stretch.
``I thought our guys did a good job of sticking to the game plan for probably 35 of the minutes,' coach Bill Grier said. ``There's a couple of stretches where we got going a little too fast and took too tough a shot too quick, and that's why they're good. They make you pay.'
San Diego scored the first 10 points of the second half, capped by consecutive 3-pointers from Dorr and Ken Rancifer to take its first lead of the game at 33-30. That was part of a 21-2 run going back to late in the first half and forced Bennett to call an early timeout to regroup his team.
But Jones helped spark a 19-3 run that put the game away for the Gaels. He hit two 3-pointers and two other baskets during the run that sent Saint Mary's into the toughest portion of its schedule on a positive note.
Kenton Walker added five points - and shot an airball on a free throw - in the spurt that gave the Gaels their 15th double-digit win this season.
``We got down three and we did a great job of staying composed,' McConnell said. ``We kind of got going a little bit and defensively we tightened up a little.'
Jones spent his first two years at San Diego, helping the Toreros reach the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2008. But he left San Diego before last season to move closer to home and eventually landed at Saint Mary's, leaving Bennett concerned about how he'd respond to playing his old team.
His addition has been a major reason behind the Gaels surprising success this season after key big men Omar Samhan and Ben Allen graduated from a team that reached the third round of the NCAA tournament.
``I talked about that the first meeting of the year because I didn't want to talk about it a lot when the game got here,' he said. ``I knew that would be a challenge. It's a tough deal. I knew they'd be ready and they should be and they were. Rob did a good job. It's not Rob versus them; it's us versus them. I thought we handled it that way. Rob was great.'
Jones got Saint Mary's started with a layup on the opening possession off a nice feed from Dellavedova. The Gaels led 13-2 by the first media timeout and never trailed in the first half.
The Toreros missed 12 of their first 15 shots from the field, missed eight early free throws - including two front ends of 1-and-1s - and had 10 turnovers and three made shots at one point. Dorr ended a drought of more than 8 minutes without a basket when he hit a jumper with under 4 minutes left in the first half that cut Saint Mary's lead to 28-14.
The Toreros hit four of their next five shots after that and got the deficit down to 30-23 at halftime - the first time they had trailed at the break in a conference game this season.
``We haven't been challenged like that in a while,' Jones said. ``It was good to work and sweat that win out. I'm glad we're going on the road with a win and continued our success.'
The Associated Press News Service
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