MORAGA -- Those looking for a drastic philosophy shift from the Saint Mary's basketball team in Friday night's season opener against Louisiana Tech instead got treated to a fine display of the basic principles that have served the Gaels oh so well in recent seasons.
A career night from big man Brad Waldow, coupled with a good stretch of defense in the second half added up to a 83-70 Saint Mary's victory at McKeon Pavilion.
Waldow set a career high in scoring with 28 points, eclipsing his previous best of 23 set last season against San Diego. Stephen Holt chipped in with his usual strong all-around game, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Raheem Appleby led Louisiana Tech with 18.
"This team has a chance to really grow," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Their potential is pretty high, but we're not anywhere near that. We did a good job for the most part of handling their pressure and executing offensively.
"I thought we had some big lapses defensively and on the boards. We haven't been good there in our scrimmages, so we have to get better."
Saint Mary's and Louisiana Tech appeared evenly matched for most of the night, but it was a stretch early in the second half that saw the Gaels achieve a bit of distance from their counterparts from Ruston, La.
The momentum started with a bit of ball movement from guard Jordan Giusti. The sophomore from Danville knifed into the lane and kicked to a wide-open Holt in the corner for a 3-pointer. Holt drained the shot, giving Saint Mary's a 51-44 lead with 14:49 left.
After two free throws by Louisiana Tech, Holt knocked down another 3 to keep the Saint Mary's lead growing. Beau Levesque added a layup under pressure, and with 12:53 remaining, Saint Mary's had its first double-digit lead at 56-46.
The Bulldogs would never get much closer as Saint Mary's was able to salt away the victory by holding steady the rest of the night. SMC finished with an emphatic 38-28 advantage on the glass to help put away the win.
The constant throughout the night was Waldow, as the junior from Shingle Springs enjoyed his finest night as a Gael.
Whether it was an up-and-under move, a putback off an offensive rebound or just a good old fashioned throwdown at the rim, the Gaels' big man had his way in the low post. He also finished with eight rebounds and two blocks.
"He was the key to the game," Bennett said. "He kept dominating for the course of the game. He played against a good player and played well."
Saint Mary's turned a typically grinding first half into a lead at the break thanks to contributions from the majority of the team.
The Gaels trailed for most of the first half, never by more than a few, but it wasn't until the 4:48 mark that Holt got the score back to even when a 3-pointer to make it 27-all.
Just over a minute later, James Walker III gave Saint Mary's its first lead since 2-0 when a driving layup made it 29-27.
The teams traded blows for most of the rest of the half, but a strong finish gave the Gaels the halftime advantage. Waldow converted one of his trademark up-and-under layups to put SMC up by two, then Garrett Jackson sank two free throws with 0.02 seconds left to leave the lead at four heading to the locker room.
"An emphasis we had was to weather the storm. We wanted to go out the first five minutes (of the second half) and beat them at their game," Waldow said.