Gaels to blow past Crusaders?

Gaels to blow past Crusaders?

St. Mary’s just didn’t look like its usual self in an opening-round squeaker over New Mexico State. Sunday's commanding showing, however, reverberated throughout the rest of the NIT field.

By virtue of their 77-65 rout of Georgia, the Gaels set up tonight’s 7 p.m. ET bout against the Crusaders. Online sports book Bovada.lv prefers No. 1 seed Valparaiso, though, as a 3-point home favorite.

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Such is life for the school that earned a share of the West Coast Conference regular-season championship. Not even a 27-5 record, after all, could impress the NCAA selection committee.

An early lull vs. the Aggies also failed to boost morale. The Bulldogs, however, never had a chance. Randy Bennett’s balanced attack bombarded the visitors from the opening tip and went on an 11-0 spree midway through the second half en route to a runaway victory.

Sophomore guard Emmett Naar posted a game-high 15 points, but three other Gaels cracked double figures as well. On the defensive side, Naar and junior Joe Rohan combine to average 3.9 thefts a contest.

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While St. Mary’s ranks fifth in the nation in scoring D, Valpo looms large in the rearview mirror. The Crusaders barely allow 62 points per tilt, with their recent slip-up in the Horizon League tourney an anomaly indeed. Since that 99-92 defeat at the hands of Green Bay, they've utterly blanketed Texas Southern and Florida State.

Valparaiso also features arguably the best player on the court in junior forward Alec Peters. He’s liable to flirt with the 30s at any given time, but the Gaels’ cohesiveness should hold up reasonably well. We anticipate a one- or two-possession affair in the waning seconds.

TUESDAY NCAA FREE PICK: ST. MARY’S +3

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