With Mahaney on bench, Saint Mary’s beats VCU in NCAA men’s basketball tournament

A basketball player looks to get by a defender

Saint Mary’s Augustas Marciulionis drives against VCU’s Zeb Jackson during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Friday at MVP Arena.

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ALBANY — When a team sends its second-leading scorer, its impact freshman, to the bench for the majority of the second half, it might spell doom for a lot of teams.

It didn’t for the Saint Mary’s Gaels, who turned on the jets in the second half with freshman guard Aidan Mahaney on the bench with four fouls. Mahaney did not play in the final 16 minutes of Saint Mary’s 63-51 victory against the VCU Rams in Friday afternoon’s first-round NCAA tournament action at MVP Arena.

Instead, it was Mitchell Saxon, a player who came into the game averaging 11.6 points per game, stepping up, scoring 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Alex Ducas came through in a big way as well, scoring 17 points while playing the entire game.

“We back Aidan all the way,” Ducas said. “I know sometimes he has tough nights. I do try and take a little bit of a step forward and be more aggressive in certain parts of my game just to provide for that scoring that he kind of takes away when he goes out.”

Saxon was the one who jumped on the Rams early, scoring eight of Saint Mary’s first 21 points and grabbing three rebounds, while Ducas chipped in with seven points.

“We had to get on the O-boards early. We were struggling a little bit. We were all missing layups and shots we usually make,” Saxon said. “So we just kind of had to keep with it and be aggressive in there and get the job done.”

Mahaney, a freshman, was playing in his first NCAA tournament game. He finished scoreless on five shots, three of them coming from behind the 3-point line, in just over 18 minutes of playing time.

“There’s a little pressure there,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “I look forward to seeing him play on Sunday. He’s a good player, he got in foul trouble and he didn’t have a great game today, but he’ll bounce back.” 

Augustas Marciulionis stepped up for the Gaels as well, finishing with 13 points. He came into the game averaging just 5.6 points per game and finishing in double figures in just six of the Gaels’ first 33 games this season. His 13 points were just one point shy of both a season and career high, which came earlier this season.

“He’s going to be one of the guys next year, one of our main guys. So he’s a good player,” Bennett said. “So he saved us. He was really good. I’m glad we have him.”

The team’s leading scorer, Logan Johnson, finished with 12 points, a below-average performance from the fifth-year guard. However, the 6-foot-2 Johnson made an impact on the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds.

This all comes back to the sheer number of weapons that Saint Mary’s has and the ability to win any type of way. The Gaels held the Rams to their lowest point total of the season. VCU’s season-low before Friday was 59.

Now, the Gaels will have a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in over a decade when it faces UConn on Sunday. That would be just the second time Bennett has advanced to the Sweet 16 since he took over as head coach in 2001.

“In the NCAA tournament, it’s different,” Bennett said. “Everything is different. You’re on the grand stage. Like I said before, this is the best sporting event in this country. So everybody’s watching.”

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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