As satisfying as a 76-71 win over St. John's must have been, Saint Mary's College coach Randy Bennett was most excited to look ahead in the aftermath of the big-time victory.

"This team has a chance to improve even more than last year's team did from day one to the end of the season," Bennett said early Tuesday. "We need to do that; hopefully we do that. The potential is there."

Given what he'd just seen -- a second half filled with stifling defense, clutch perimeter shooting and a hard-nosed post performance by several of his players -- Bennett's optimism was justified.

In the larger picture, the win should pay big dividends as a resume builder. With the Red Storm picked to finish sixth in the always-competitive Big East, St. John's expected improvement will work to the Gaels' advantage.

"Those guys are going to have a good RPI because they're in the Big East, and they're going to win some games. I think they'll be an above-.500 team in the Big East, which is a good team," Bennett said. "At the end of the year, we should have a significant, notable win."

What the win showed on the court was a new focus on the offensive end. Without the big body of Omar Samhan to dump the ball to down low, the Gaels (2-0) used solid defense, transition and good ball movement to get open looks from the perimeter.

A large part of that new identity came from small forward Clint Steindl, who set a career high in points for the second straight game with 22. He finished one behind the school record with seven 3-pointers and, by the middle of the second half, a packed McKeon Pavilion crowd began asking for the junior from Australia to shoot every time he touched the ball.


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"Coming into my junior year, I knew I had to step up and be a scorer for this team, be a shooter, and play defense to the best of my ability," Steindl said. "I'm feeling pretty good, but you've got to stay level-headed. Game two is finished, we've got to get ready for game three."

Part of the new blueprint for the Gaels also revolved around a host of low-post options. Against St. John's, that meant significant contributions from all four big men -- Kenton Walker II, Rob Jones, Mitchell Young and Tim Williams.

The new frontcourt foursome combined for 26 points and 22 rebounds against an athletic St. John's front line, led by Williams' eight points and eight rebounds.

"We've got a good group in there. Every game we're getting better," Jones said. "Kenton, Tim with a monster dunk, Mitch played really well. We're really coming along."

Where the Gaels, an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 squad last season, will also make up ground in the coming days is the health of their team. Matthew Dellavedova's return from a hamstring injury limited his practice time in training camp, and he is rounding into game shape by coming off the bench. Fellow guard Jorden Page didn't play against St. John's with a banged-up knee. A return to full health should make for even more improvement in the not-too-distant future.

ThursDAY'S game
Point Loma Nazarene at Saint Mary's, 7 p.m.