MORAGA, Calif. -- Freshman Mickey McConnell scored 20 points to lead struggling Saint Mary's to a critical 77-65 victory over Portland on Saturday night.
Once ranked No. 18, the Gaels had lost four of their previous five games since star point guard Patrick Mills broke his hand. One of the players called on to replace Mills, McConnell hit two 3-pointers in the second-half run that put away what had been a tight game. He was perfect in four shots from beyond the arc. He also made all six of his free throws.Saint Mary's (20-5, 7-4 West Coast) needed the victory to keep alive realistic hopes at finishing with one of the top two spots in the WCC and earning a bye in next month's conference tournament.Portland (16-9, 7-3) still holds an edge for the conference's No. 2 spot.Nik Raivo led Portland with 16 points. T.J. Campbell scored 15 and Robin Smuelders had 13 for the Pilots.Omar Samhan scored 17 and Diamon Simpson had 17 and nine rebounds for the Gaels.The teams could not have played a much tighter first half, with neither team leading by more than three and the lead changing hands 14 times. After the 17th lead change, early in the second half, Saint Mary's finally began to pull away.McConnell's 3-pointer with 12 minutes 20 seconds to go in the game gave Saint Mary's a 40-35 lead. Samhan's hook shot put the Gaels up by seven with 8:11 to play. Simpson's steal and layup with 6:11 on the clock gave Saint Mary's a 52-43 lead.Saint Mary's has won 20 games in back-to-back seasons for the second time in school history.