BERKELEY, Calif. — Getting knocked out of the Top 25 didn’t bother Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett as much as losing back-to-back games.
Jordan Ford helped make sure the streak didn’t reach three with what was easily his best game of the season on a night when Gaels leading scorer Jock Landale didn’t factor much in the outcome.
Ford scored a career-high 17 points with six rebounds and Saint Mary’s beat California 74-63 on Saturday night.
“I saw they were kind of playing the pass when I would drive so that opened it up for me to get the ball in the rim,” Ford said. “We have so many good shooters that we can get to the rim and (defenses) can’t help in on us.”
Calvin Hermanson added 22 points with four 3-pointers, Emmett Naar had 13 points and eight assists and Landale scored 13 points with six rebounds for the Gaels (6-2).
Saint Mary’s had one of its best offensive games of the season to bounce back after falling out of the rankings following back-to-back losses to Washington State and Georgia.
Landale wasn’t much of a factor most of the night. He made 5 of 8 shots but had trouble in the paint against Cal’s two big men, 7-foot-1 center Kingsley Okoroh and 6-11 forward Marcus Lee.
Ford helped pick up the slack on both ends of the floor. The Saint Mary’s sophomore held Darius McNeill to a season-low three points after he reached double figures in his previous five games.
“Jordan played well,” Bennett said. “I just think he’s growing as a player into his role, which is a pretty big role. He did a really good job on McNeill. I think that was the difference. We defended their guards pretty well.”
It was only the second game between the two Northern California schools in the last 12 years.
Lee scored a career-high 23 points and Nick Hamilton added 16 for the Golden Bears (3-5). Cal, which never led, has dropped four of five.
“We built ourselves a hole from the jump and didn’t come out with the kind of energy I expect us to,” Bears first-year coach Wyking Jones said. “Seemed like every time we started making a run they’d make a play. We couldn’t rattle them.”
Saint Mary’s pulled away with a 17-6 run late in the first half and was ahead by double digits most of the way until California made a brief run late in the second half.
Lee scored to cut the gap to 65-55, but Naar made a deep 3-pointer and the Gaels made six consecutive free throws to close it out.
McNeill and Justice Sueing had been pivotal for Cal’s offense recently but the two freshmen shot a combined 3 of 12, all three makes coming from beyond the arc.
“We looked young out there today,” Jones said. “Our guys are going to have to figure it out. Hopefully they get accustomed to it as we play games like this.”
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels weren’t reeling after getting knocked out of the rankings, but they needed a game to feel good about and this was it. The fact that they won without much from Landale has to make coach Randy Bennett feel good. Ford was the X-factor in many ways and gave Saint Mary’s defense a much-needed lift along the way.
California: The Bears had some success early with their half-court trap, an encouraging sign for a team that has not been sharp defensively much of the year. Another bright spot was Lee, who shot 10 of 14 from the floor and was aggressive much of the night. The big difference was at the free-throw line. Saint Mary’s went 18 of 21 from the stripe, while Cal was just 6 of 11. Jones also said his team got too anxious after falling behind early.
Saint Mary’s: Begins a six-game homestand Monday against Sacramento State.
California: The Bears host Central Arkansas on Wednesday.