NCAAB: No. 5 Saint Mary’s pulls away in second half, beats No. 12 VCU

Mitchell Saxen racked up 17 points to lead four scorers in double figures as No. 5 Saint Mary’s earned a 63-51 victory over No. 12 VCU in Albany, N.Y., on Friday afternoon in a first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region.

Saxen was an efficient 8-for-11 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots for the Gaels (27-7), who will face fourth-seeded UConn in the second round. UConn defeated Iona 87-63 in the first round.

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Alex Ducas also had 17 points, Augustas Marciulionis had 13 and Logan Johnson finished with 12 to go along with 10 rebounds.

Adrian Baldwin Jr. paced the Rams (27-8) with 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Jayden Nunn chipped in nine points and seven rebounds for VCU, which has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 2016.

The Rams went ice cold following intermission, sinking just 6 of 27 shot attempts (22.2 percent) from the floor, including 2 of 9 (22.2 percent) 3-point tries.

Marciulionis hit a trey and Kyle Bowen converted a three-point play to give Saint Mary’s some breathing room, making it 41-34 with 12:50 remaining.

VCU quickly cut its deficit to three, but the Gaels exploded for nine of the next 10 points to go up by 11 with just under nine minutes left. That’s when the Rams began to struggle offensively — scoring just eight points over the final eight-plus minutes — allowing Saint Mary’s to cruise to the finish.

“The heart of the deal is we both really take a lot of pride in our defense,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said of both teams’ approach. “I thought it would be a gritty, tough game to score, and it was for us. Didn’t shoot it well first half.

“Second half, Saxen, Mitchell did a great job inside. This guy next to me, Alex, was good the whole way. That’s kind of where we had the edge,” Bennett said. “It was a gritty game, and we just kind of outlasted them a little bit and got a little separation and were able to hang on.”

In a tightly contested first half, neither team led by more than four points. VCU made 12 of 22 shots (54.5 percent) but had its pace of play stymied by Saint Mary’s, which went just 11-for-30 (36.7 percent) from the field, including a dismal 1-for-11 mark from 3-point range.

The Gaels went into the break with a narrow 29-28 lead after Baldwin sank a 3-pointer with 47 seconds left in the first half to pull the Rams within one.

Baldwin led all first-half scorers with 11 points, while Saxen notched 10 for Saint Mary’s.

–Field Level Media

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