The Saint Martin’s Saints, playing catch-up from the early minutes of the game, never quite caught up with Taylor Stafford on Thursday.
The Saints played their most fluid basketball of the night to open the second half, cutting a 12-point halftime deficit to Western Washington to eight points.
But Stafford, a slick-quick 6-foot-1 senior from Chicago, scored 14 points in the first eight minutes of the second half as the Vikings rebuilt a 15-point lead that held up against a late Saints rush in a 91-78 Western victory in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play at Saint Martin’s Marcus Pavilion.
“As he goes, they go,” Saint Martin’s coach Alex Pribble said of Stafford. “He did a great job of leading them tonight.”
Stafford led all scorers with 30 points, including 19 in the second half, but it was after his turnover and air ball on consecutive possessions that the Saints cut the lead to six points on two free throws by Tyler Copp, and then to five points at 81-76 on a single free throw by Preston Cole with just under four minutes to go.
Stafford responded with a drive to the hoop for one basket, fed 7-footer Logan Schilder for another, and when Jeffrey Parker gathered an offensive rebound and drained a three-pointer from the corner it was suddenly 88-76 and out of reach for the Saints.
Pribble saw progress from his team (4-3) in the GNAC opener.
“We want to be the team we saw in the second half,” he said. “Attack on offense and defend with a sense of purpose every single possession.”
The Vikings (6-0) rode the early hot hand of 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman Daulton Hommes, who had 17 first-half points and three of his four three-pointers of the half in a 18-7 surge that earned Western a 30-18 lead.
The Western lead bloomed to 39-24 on seven straight points by Stafford.
A pair of three-pointers by Trey Ingram got SMU within 10 points before a runner by Stafford accounted for a 46-34 Western lead at the half.
Hommes finished with 19 points for Western, which hit on 13 of 27 shots behind the 3-point arc.
Ingram, a 6-1 junior from Scottsdale, Arizona, scored 11 of his Saints-high 18 points after intermission. Sophomore Rhett Baerlocher (Missoula, Montana) led SMU with eight rebounds and tallied 11 points. Rico Nuno, a 6-8 junior from Half Moon Bay, California, who played most recently at Eastern Washington, showed creativity around the basket in scoring 11 points.
“If you looked around the gym tonight,” Pribble said, “you got a sense of the energy that we’re trying to bring to the community.”
Western 91, Saint Martin’s 78
W: Stafford 30, Drechsel 7, Schilder 12, Hommes 19, Parker 10, Kingma 6, Wallace 0, Jasinsky 7.
SMU: Preston 9, Kitchen 2, Baerlocher 11, Copp 10, Jorg 8, Ingram 18, Ieronymides 0, Colbert 2, Painter 2, Nuno 11, Kenilvort 5.