March 17, 2009
MORAGA, Calif. (AP) -Patrick Mills scored 27 points, 17 in the first half, leading Saint Mary's to a 68-57 victory over Washington State in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
The second-seeded Gaels (27-6) advanced to a second-round home game against Davidson and Stephen Curry, the nation's leading scorer.
Diamon Simpson added 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Saint Mary's, in its first NIT appearance. The Gaels won a school-record 27th game.
Aron Baynes led WSU (17-16) with 19 points, while Taylor Rochestie added 14 in the first meeting between the teams.
After leading 36-23 at the half, Saint Mary's opened a 17-point lead early in the second half. The Cougars fought back, getting as close as 57-53 with 6:30 left, but Saint Mary's went on a 7-0 run. Mills made two free throws, then Omar Samhan hit a jumper from the line and followed with a three-point play with 4:47 left.
Baynes, who had 10 rebounds, ended the Gaels' run with a slam dunk with 3:00 left, cutting the lead to 64-55, but Simpson answered with four straight free throws.
Mills, playing just his fourth game since returning from a broken right hand, took less than eight minutes to score 10 points, hitting three of his first four shots. At one point during that span, Mills made two free throws then drained a pair of 3-pointers, the second one putting Saint Mary's ahead 19-11.
He was just getting started.
He scored on a fastbreak layin, sank two free throws then connected on an NBA-distance 3-pointer, well beyond the arc. That long-range shot put the Gaels ahead 29-17 with 6:18 left in the first half. Moments later, Mills threaded a perfect bounce pass from the top of the key to Samhan, who scored inside, putting Saint Mary's ahead 31-17.
Simpson had a huge first half, scoring 12 points. Late in the half, Simpson soared above the rim and slammed home a Mills miss, then he scored from inside, giving Saint Mary's its 13-point halftime lead.
Mills shot 8-for-15 from the field and 5-for-9 from 3-point distance. He had two steals, two assists and just one turnover.
The last post-season win for Saint Mary's came 50 years ago, when the Gaels defeated the University of Idaho in the 1959 NCAA Tournament.
Rochestie, a first-team All-Pac-10 guard, struggled early, making just one of his first five shots in his final game for the Cougars. For the game, he made 6-of-16 from the field 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
As a team, WSU was just 3-for-15 from 3-point range, while Saint Mary's was 7-for-18.
WSU played in the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons, reaching the Sweet 16 last year. They've now made three straight postseason tournament appearances for the second time in school history. This marked WSU's fourth overall appearance in the NIT and first since 1992.