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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — Saint Mary's needed a little urging to take its game up a notch, and coach Randy Bennett provided that push with a clear halftime message about playing harder and together.
"I challenged them," he said. "It wasn't crazy."
Jock Landale had 20 points and 11 rebounds and No. 19 Saint Mary's pulled away with a big second half to beat South Carolina State 74-47 on Thursday night and wrap up its non-conference schedule.
Calvin Hermanson added 10 points as the Gaels (10-1) overcame cold shooting early and a particularly quiet night passing to win their fourth straight since a lone defeat to Texas-Arlington on Dec. 8.
"I think we're ready to move into conference," Landale said. "We know it's going to be a lot harder when we get to the conference. Teams are going to scout us a lot harder. We came in tonight, we just really wanted to finish off our preseason really well."
Leading scorer Eric Eaves had 11 points as the only player in double figures for the Bulldogs (3-9).
The Gaels opened the second half with a 23-5 burst to pull away, getting consecutive 3-pointers from Emmett Naar and six points with a dunk by Landale as South Carolina State missed 11 of its first 13 shots.
Saint Mary's shot 48.3 percent, making seven of its 10 3-point attempts in the second half while finishing with 20 assists.
Landale went 7 for 11 Thursday and shot 64 percent (77 for 121) during the non-conference schedule. Bennett called him out during halftime, too.
"To be a great competitor you've got to bring it every night," he said.
Both teams were slow to get going in the first meeting between the schools.
Landale and Hermanson combined to score 11 of the Gaels' first 16 points as they jumped to a 21-7 lead by making 8 of their first 12 shots. South Carolina State answered with a 10-0 run and over the final 12:26 of the first half, Saint Mary's made just five shots and committed four turnovers.
Saint Mary's will now turn its attention to the tough mid-major West Coast Conference. The Gaels are picked to finish second in the WCC behind perennial power Gonzaga after the rivals shared the league's regular-season crown last season — the third since 2011 for Saint Mary's. The Gaels are out to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 after three straight years in the NIT.
They always get everybody's best at McKeon Pavilion.
"We understand there's expectations, we've been dealing with it from fall on," Bennett said. "I don't think it's on their minds. But I do think teams are going to come in and they're going to be excited to play against us. We've got to flip that. We have to be more excited to play against them."
South Carolina State: Eaves, who came in averaging 15.1 points, shot 5 for 9. ... The Bulldogs had their third-lowest half of the season with 23 points behind 14 points in the first half against Miami on Dec. 6 and 15 in the initial 20 minutes of an 85-39 season-opening loss to the Shockers in Wichita. ... South Carolina State dropped to 1-7 on the road. ... The Bulldogs shot three total free throws, none in the first half.
Saint Mary's: Saint Mary's held a 17-9 rebounding edge in the first half and 42-16 overall. ... The Gaels had never faced a school from the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference. ... Saint Mary's is 120-33 against non-conference opponents the past 10 years.
South Carolina State played a daunting preseason slate with other tough road games at Wichita State, South Carolina, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Clemson and Furman.
"We've played a who's who," coach Murray Garvin said. "I'm glad this part of our season is over with. I think we've gotten better by playing this level of competition. When we get back to like competition, I'm looking for us to win way more than we've lost here."
South Carolina State: At Jacksonville University on New Year's Eve to conclude the non-conference schedule.
Saint Mary's: Opens WCC play at home against San Diego next Thursday.
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