MORAGA -- While most of the country slept, more than 2,000 college basketball fans crowded into McKeon Pavilion to take in a midnight matchup between two reigning NCAA tournament teams.

When the final horn sounded at 2:15 a.m. Tuesday, Saint Mary's College had earned an 85-63 over visiting Akron in front its happy but sleep-deprived fans.

Other hardcore fans from across the country also watched the game by tuning in on their TV sets for what was part of ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. Insomniacs and parents of newborns might have caught some of the action, too.

Saint Mary’s Kerry Carter drives to the basket during the Gaels’ 85-63 early morning win over Akron in a game that started at midnight.
Saint Mary's Kerry Carter drives to the basket during the Gaels' 85-63 early morning win over Akron in a game that started at midnight. (Tod Fierner / Saint Mary's College Athletics)

Participating in the event, which feeds college hoops junkies with 29 consecutive hours of basketball, has become something of a tradition in Moraga. Saint Mary's has hosted late-night games five times since the ESPN marathon began in 2008, though their previous four games all began at 11 p.m.

The unusual start time doesn't seem to bother the Gaels, who are undefeated in these contests.

"When you're here it's weird, it doesn't feel like midnight," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "You wouldn't know the difference if it was 7 o'clock or midnight until you leave the gym. If you watched the game not knowing, you wouldn't have thought people were lethargic or anything.

"I don't think it had any impact on the game, at least not for us."


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The Gael Force, Saint Mary's student section, was packed and boisterous. But many gray-haired season ticket holders also stayed awake well past their bed time to see starting guards Jordan Giusti and James Walker III post new career highs in scoring.

"These fans are so loyal and so passionate, I think they just enjoy it and it doesn't matter what time the game is," Saint Mary's athletic director Mark Orr said.

The building was only about half full and some left when Saint Mary's took control in the final 10 minutes, but the fans remaining cheered loudly until the end.

Ted Tsukahara, a faculty member in Saint Mary's liberal arts program, had a class to teach at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, but he didn't want to miss seeing some of his former students play. For him, watching on television wasn't a good alternate.

"If you watch it on TV, you end up falling asleep," said Tsukahara, 72.

John Higgins, 68, is a regular at the Gaels' late night games. After one recent thriller, Higgins said he and his wife were so hyped that they watched the game again on DVR when they got home and didn't go to bed until 5 a.m.

"I'm retired so I can get up when I want to," Higgins said. "It's a nice change of pace. I enjoy watching them at any time."

Giusti, a sophomore from San Ramon Valley High and admitted night owl, played one of the best games of his career. He had 12 points, six assists and four steals after taking a one-hour power nap earlier in the evening.

"I feel great, I'm not going to go to sleep for a while," Giusti said.

Senior Beau Levesque, now a veteran of these late tipoffs, said he pushed back his whole day by three hours, waking up and eating meals later than normal. As a graduate student, he has the luxury of flexibility.

Akron, which arrived in California on Saturday morning to get used to the time change, played with plenty of energy and fire early, but faded at the end.

It was a new experience for the players, said Zips forward Quincy Diggs.

"It was hard to adjust, but no excuses," Diggs said.

Akron headed to the airport right after the game for a 6 a.m. flight to Ohio.

For a couple mid-major teams that tend to fly under the radar, Tuesday morning's game was a chance to play in front of a national television audience, even though the start time probably prevented casual fans from tuning in.

Matthew Dellavedova, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, sacrificed sleep to watch his former team from Chicago, where the game started at 2 a.m.

The late tipoff did work out well for the Gaels' fan base in Australia, where the game began in the evening.

The No. 3 Stanford women helped kick off the marathon with their 76-57 loss to No. 1 Connecticut, and the Stanford men also participated, losing 112-103 to BYU. Both of those games were played at a reasonable hour, at least for the players and West Coast viewers and fans.

Programming continued with New Mexico State playing at Hawaii at midnight Hawaiian Standard Time (2 p.m. Pacific).