LACEY - With a 16-point lead and just over nine minutes to play, Saint Martin's coach Keith Cooper figured he could turn it over to his young bench.
It nearly cost him a win before the Saints pulled out a 71-68 victory in men’s basketball Friday.
Leading 59-43, Cooper watched Colorado School of Mines go on an 18-2 run, tying the score 61-61 with 4:25 left to play.
But with Cooper reinserting his starters, the Saints answered with a 7-0 run and then survived another rally to pull out the non-conference win over the visiting Orediggers.
“We don’t do anything easy,” Cooper said. “Our young kids played a little too long. That’s my fault. But they have to play to get better.”
Saint Martin’s, with five freshmen and two sophomores on the team, got a break late in the game.
Clinging to a 70-68 lead with just 12 seconds left, SMU forward Blake Poole shot from the corner with just two seconds left on the shot clock.
His shot stuck in the rim and the Saints were awarded the possession on a held ball. It might have been the best brick shot in SMU history.
Colorado School of Mines was then forced to foul, and SMU guard Galen Squiers made one of two free throws for a three-point lead with 11.3 seconds left.
The Orediggers’ last-ditch 3-pointer from the corner bounced off the rim and the Saints improved to 8-1.
“You have to give them credit. They kept battling,” Cooper said about Colorado School of Mines. “A lot of teams down 16 on the road would have quit.”
Early in the game, the Orediggers switched from a man-to-man defense to a sagging zone, collapsing on Poole, who came into the game averaging 22.8 points.
The zone limited Poole to a season-low 12 points on just six field goal attempts.
But the Saints responded with balanced scoring as five players scored in double figures. Jeremy Green scored 13 points in the first half and didn’t take a shot in the second half. He still led SMU in scoring.
Freshman guard Brady Bomber, who hit a clutch 3-pointer for a 68-61 lead with 1:43 left, added 11 points, six over his season average. He went 3-for-6 from 3-point range.
“When they double down on Blake, we have to make them pay,” Bomber said. “Every day we get better. Coaches say we have to grow up quick.”
SMU’s Jared Howard scored 11 points in the second half after missing all five of his shots in the first half.
He went 5-for-8 in the second half.
The 6-foot-6 senior forward sank a whirling lay-in that snapped a 9-0 Colorado School of Mines run and gave the Saints a 61-52 lead.
But the Orediggers went on another 9-0 run and tied the score 61-61 on Drew Hoffman’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4:25 left.
“Jared is a streaky player,” Cooper said. “He can get it going at times.”
“Whatever it takes to win,” Howard said.
Dale Minschwaner scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half to lead Colorado, which dropped to 4-4.
While Poole was limited offensively, the Orediggers couldn’t keep him from rebounding. Poole finished with 14 of the Saints’ 26 rebounds.
The Saints host Pacific Lutheran Monday.