Saint Mary’s beats Richmond for first NCAA win since 1959

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Richmond was on the wrong side of an NCAA tournament upset this time, and Saint Mary’s is moving on for the first time in more than 50 years.

Omar Samhan had 29 points and 12 rebounds despite spending most of the game in foul trouble, and Saint Mary’s pulled away from Richmond to win 80-71 on Thursday in the first round of the South Regional.

It was the first NCAA win for Saint Mary’s in six tries since 1959. The 10th-seeded Gaels (27-5) will play Saturday against Villanova, a No. 2 seed that escaped from the first round with a 73-70 overtime victory over Robert Morris.

Mickey McConnell, the West Coast Conference tournament MVP when the Gaels upset Gonzaga in the title game, went 5 for 9 from 3-point range and scored 23 points. Thanks to in large part to Samhan, a 6-foot-11 senior, the Gaels held a 40-18 rebounding edge, outrebounding Richmond 19-13 under their own basket for a 21-4 advantage in second-chance points.

David Gonzalvez scored 18 and Kevin Anderson had 16 for Richmond (26-9). The Spiders have won NCAA tournament games as No. 12, 13, 14 and 15 seeds but, playing as a favorite for the first time in school history, failed to make it out of the first round.

Samhan scored 17 points with seven rebounds in the first half, despite spending the last 6:31 on the bench with three fouls. He had 27 and 11 when he picked up his fourth foul with 9:13 left and Saint Mary’s leading 59-50; he sat down and didn’t return for six minutes.

But his absence didn’t slow down the Gaels.

They took a 12-point lead on the next possession when McConnell faked forward and stepped back with the shot clock winding down, arcing a high 3-pointer into the basket. McConnell then fed Clint Steindl for a 3 that made it 65-50 with 7:32 left.

The fans, who spent much of the game yelling chants for the five Australians on the Saint Mary’s roster, began calling for coach Randy Bennett to put Samhan back in the game.

When he returned, with 3:14 to play, he immediately grabbed a rebound and then finished off a fast break with a dunk that gave Saint Mary’s a 72-59 lead.

The Gaels, from Moraga, Calif., north of Oakland, had lost five straight NCAA games since 1959, when they beat Idaho State to advance to the round of eight in a 23-team tournament.

Richmond, which lost to Temple in the Atlantic 10 conference championship game, has been known as a giant-killer, with a rich NCAA history of knocking off defending champions like Indiana in 1988 and future NBA Hall of Famers like Charles Barkley’s Auburn team in ‘84.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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