MORAGA — Less than 20 minutes had passed since Saint Mary's center Omar Samhan put the finishing touches on one of the best games of his career.
While he waited for the start of the postgame news conference that followed the Gaels' 85-65 win over Eastern Washington on Friday night, Samhan furiously checked scores from around the nation on his cell phone.
"There's nothing else you can do now but just pray and try to relax," Samhan said after pouring in a career-high 29 points and adding 12 rebounds. "It's out of our control."
Friday's win gave Saint Mary's a school-record 26 wins (26-6) and one last chance to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. After Saint Mary's struggled to separate from the Eagles (12-18) in the first half, Samhan scored eight of the Gaels' first 10 points in the second half to give them a 49-36 lead. His last bucket of that sequence set off another 10-0 run — which included back-to-back 3-pointers by Patty Mills — and the Gaels were comfortably in front 59-36 with 15:01 left.
"It gets us to 26 wins. That's a good year," Samhan said. "It's hard to keep teams like that out. It can't hurt at this point."
The Gaels will find out if they are included in the NCAA field Sunday at 3 p.m.
Friday's game was a late addition to the schedule. Coach Randy Bennett wanted to give the team one more chance at playing again with Mills, who missed nine games with a broken hand before returning earlier in the week for the West Coast Conference tournament.
While Mills struggled during the two games in the conference tourney, he looked much more comfortable Friday. He finished with 19 points, including 4-for-9 on 3-pointers, and generally appeared to be more in sync.
"I practiced all week, and the swelling was down, and I had all the motion in my fingers and wrist," Mills said. "It felt close to 100 percent. I felt a lot more comfortable."
Bennett hopes Friday's performance will convince the committee that the Gaels are closer to being the team they were before Mills went down against Gonzaga on Jan. 29. Saint Mary's was 18-1 at that point and was leading the Zags in the first half at the time of the injury.
"This gives us a 26th win and shows Pat is back," Bennett said. "We've only had one bad stretch. Any team in the country would have had the same bad stretch if they lost a guy like Pat."
"It's horrible. It will be the worst 42 hours of my life," Samhan said. "You sit around watching TV and one says you're in and one says you're out. We'll just keep our fingers crossed. I wish it was 3 p.m. on Sunday right now."
While the win was a welcome development for the Gaels, there was worse news across the country. No. 19 Xavier lost in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament, which will eliminate another at-large berth possibility. Also, bubble teams Maryland and Baylor continued to stay alive in their respective conference tournaments.
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