Men’s Basketball Secures Gritty Road Win, Comes Back to Defeat Saint Mary’s

Bronco bench erupting in celebration.
Bronco bench erupting in celebration.

AUDIO: J. Williams Halftime Interview on KDOW-AM 1220 | AUDIO: Sendek Postgame Interview on KDOW-AM 1220

MORAGA, Calif. - Josip Vrankic's putback layup with 9.4 seconds left capped off a furious rally for Santa Clara men's basketball which came from behind on the road to knock off Saint Mary's, 67-66, on Saturday.

Vrankic had a double-double with a season-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, DJ Michell scored 16 for the Broncos (15-3, 2-1) who tallied 12 of the final 16 points to overcome a seven-point deficit with less than 4 minutes left in a matchup of two original West Coast Conference schools.

Vrankic snapped a 63-all tie with a nifty low post basket with 43 seconds remaining, but Malik Fitts answered for the Gaels (15-4, 2-2) with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to set up a wild scramble for the winning bucket.

Trey Wertz missed a driving layup attempt with 13 seconds to go, but Vrankic came up with a pair of offensive rebounds. The first came off his own miss and then he was able lay in the second attempt with his left hand.

"That fight for the offensive rebound was just incredible," Santa Clara head coach Herb Sendek said. "He would not be denied. He found a way to get it back and get it in for us."

Fitts and Logan Johnson each missed attempts at the go-ahead basket and the ball was knocked out of bounds with 2.3 seconds left. Fitts had one last chance, driving the ball from the left wing but his attempt at the buzzer was off and Santa Clara snapped an eight-game losing streak in the series and picked up its first road win of the year.

"Obviously, given the great respect we have for Saint Mary's it's a tremendous moment for our team to come on the road and get the win," Sendek said. "I thought our guys played excellent basketball throughout the game."

Jordan Ford had a game-high 30 points and Fitts scored 17 for the Gaels who were held to 36 percent shooting from the floor and outscored 42-26 in the paint. Fitts was just 3-for-15 from the field, but connect on 10 of 12 free throws and collected a game-high 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season.

Saint Mary's, which had its nine-game home-winning streak snapped, looked poised to pull away after 13-0 run pushed it into a 50-44 lead with 13:42 left in the game.

The Gaels increased the advantage to 57-48 with less 10 minutes left, but Mitchell scored a pair of baskets to stop the momentum and help set up the final sequence.

Ford, the WCC's leading scorer, connected on 9 of 18 from the floor, including 5-for-8 behind the 3-point line. But the rest of the team was 2-for-9 on 3-pointers.

Santa Clara played its best road half of the season in the opening 20 minutes, shooting 52 percent from floor, holding its own on the glass (16 rebounds apiece) and turning the ball over only three times.

Mitchell snapped a 24-all tie with a transition 3-pointer with 7:33 left and the Broncos led the remainder of the half, one in which they scored 24 points in the paint.

Bediako, in the starting lineup the last three games for an injured Guglielmo Caruso, nailed all three of his field goals and drew four fouls in the opening half. Bediako ended up with eight points in the game.

Saint Mary's hit all nine of its free throws to keep the deficit in single digits.

The Gaels went 19-for-23 from the free-throw line in the game.

Santa Clara's record is its best through 18 games since 1977-78 when the mark was also 15-3. The 14-2 start was the best since opening a school-record 21-0 in 1968-69 on the way to a 27-2 mark and a trip to the NCAAs. The Broncos won at least 14 of 16 to begin a season for only fourth time in school history: 14-2 in 1930-31 and 15-1 in 1946-47. Santa Clara has been victorious in 15 of the opening 18 games just nine times: 18-0 in 1968-69, 17-1 in 1946-47, 16-2 in 1911-12 and 15-3 in 1930-31, 1939-40, 1967-68 and 1969-70.

• Santa Clara and Saint Mary's are longtime rivals and original West Coast Conference members. The series began in 1910 and the teams played for the 227th time, the most common opponent in Santa Clara history. The Broncos lead the series 136-91 and snapped an eight-game losing streak. The last win (71-70) occurred on Feb. 28, 2015. Santa Clara also snapped a five-game skid at Saint Mary's. The last win in UCU Pavilion was a 57-55 triumph on Jan. 9, 2014. The Broncos had only one win in their previous 12 trips to Moraga.
• The Broncos played without starting forward Guglielmo Caruso (lower right leg) for the third-straight game. The sophomore, who leads the WCC in field-goal percentage, was injured against Alcorn State (Dec. 29) and is out indefinitely.
Josip Vrankic (22 points/10 rebounds) recorded his ninth-career double-double, including second of the season. He had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Denver (Nov. 27).
DJ Mitchell (16) reached double figures in scoring for the sixth time in the last eight games.
• The Gaels were held to 36.4 percent shooting from the floor, their second-lowest total of the season (35.6 at Pacific, Jan. 4)
• The Broncos scored 12 points off six Saint Mary's turnovers in the opening half. Santa Clara held a 17-14 edge in that category for the game.
• Saint Mary's held a 37-32 edge in rebounding, including 12-8 on the offensive glass, but the Gaels had only nine second-chance points.

The Broncos finish up their season-long stretch of three straight away from home when they play at top-ranked Gonzaga on Thursday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. and the game will air nationally on ESPN2.

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