LACEY — If there’s anything to be learned from playing the nation’s No. 3-ranked and defending Division II national champion men’s basketball team, it’s that Saint Martin’s forward Roger O’Neill and the rest of the Saints aspire to build their program to that caliber.
“They’re very talented and do a lot of things right,” O’Neill said after the Saints’ 104-56 Great Northwest Athletic Conference loss to the Western Washington Vikings on Saturday night. “I think Saint Martin’s is heading in the right direction, for sure.”
Despite the loss, it was a milestone night for O’Neill, who reached 1,000 points for his career. O’Neill led the Saints with 14 points on 3-for-14 shooting but connected on 8-for-9 free throws. He reached his career achievement with a free throw on a three-point play with 5 minutes, 50 seconds left in the game.
The Vikings (16-0 overall, 7-0 GNAC) put on a show in front of an estimated 1,300 fans and showed why they are among the nation’s elite Div. II teams. Their size, quickness and athleticism were too much for the Saints.
Western turned the ball over just seven times and shot 58.2 percent on field goals (39-for-67) – including 11-for-17 from 3-point range.
By halftime, after shooting a blistering 61.2 percent, the Vikings already had six players with at least six points and had a comfortable 51-23 lead.
It was a different story for the Saints, who shot 21.6 percent (16-for-74) for the game and were outrebounded, 57-37.
Western used a 13-2 run to open the second half, and had at least a 40-point lead the final 10 minutes. A jumper by reserve Anye Turner gave WWU a 76-34 advantage with 11:38 to go. His three-point play with 1:42 to play put Western in front, 102-55.
It was a homecoming for Turner, a 2011 Black Hills High School graduate who signed with Western after one season at South Puget Sound Community College. He finished with 11 points, one of five players to reach double figures for Western. The Vikings’ Austin Bragg led all scorers with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Western started fast and didn’t let up, jumping out to leads of 20-6, 37-14 and 48-16 – its largest lead of the first half after a basket by Rico Wilkins inside two minutes left in the first half. The Saints only had two field goals in the first 10 minutes, and Matt Dodson’s basket in the paint gave SMU its third field goal with 5:09 left in the first half and Western already ahead, 34-14.
“They made a ton of shots tonight,” O’Neill said. “A lot of it had to do with them being very good shooters and us not having our best effort on either end. It seemed like it just compounded on each other and got away from us a bit.”
The loss drops the Saints to 6-9 overall and 2-5 in the GNAC.
Saint Martin’s 54, at Western Oregon 47: The Saints (10-7, 3-4 GNAC) held the Wolves scoreless the first 11 minutes of the first half, racing out to a 15-0 lead, and held them to 24 percent shooting for the win.
Leading 50-47 with 47 seconds left, sophomore Jordyn Richardson hit a 3-pointer, her fourth of the game, to extend the Saints’ lead. Richardson finished with 13 points for the third straight game. Chelsea Haskey led all scorers with 14 points and added nine rebounds for the Saints.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick