Malik Hines scores 26 in season opener at Saint Mary’s

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MORAGA, Calif. – Malik Hines scored 26 points in his McNeese debut and the Cowboys battled from start to finish against mid-major power Saint Mary’s, but the Gaels capitalized on a couple of big runs, one in each half, to post an 87-65 win over McNeese in the first game of new head coach Heath Schroyer’s era.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Schroyer. “We went toe-to-toe with a team that has averaged 26 wins the last 10 years. We took some shots early that just didn’t fall. I thought there were a lot of positives in the game that we can build on.”

Hines, a graduate transfer from UMass, connected on 11 of 14 of his shots and pulled down six rebounds while scoring a career-high in points. Roydell Brown, also making his debut for the Cowboys (0-1), posted a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds while the Cowboys held the advantage on the glass by a 33-32 margin.

“I thought Malik was really good,” said Schroyer. “He slowed down and played with a good pace in the second half.”

Hines scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half.

Returner James Harvey added 10 points while newcomer Kevin Hunt dished out four assists.

Jordan Ford led four Gael players in double-figures with 23 points while Malik Fitts added 19 points and 12 rebounds in his SMC debut.

McNeese scored the last four points of the first half and first four points of the second half to pull to within 34-27. But the Gaels put a halt to McNeese extended the run with when SMC’s Elijah Thomas put the Gaels back up by double-digits.

A dunk by Hines followed to cut the margin to 37-29 then SMC scored 13 straight to open up a 50-29 lead.

The Cowboys, who shot 46 percent (27 of 59) from the field for the game and 57 percent (17 of 30) in the second half, never folded and pulled to within 16 points late after falling behind by as much as 26.

“I thought we did a good job of executing in the second half,” said Schroyer. “To shoot 57 percent in the second half was a real positive against a team like them.

“I think they wore us down, especially in the second half. We had a couple of live ball turnovers that led to easy baskets for them. We were also a step late on our closeouts in the second half.”

Saint Mary’s won 30 games last season, including a 44-point victory over Southland Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana in the first round of the NIT. This preseason, the Gaels defeated two Pac-12 teams by by 20 or more points in scrimmages.

“They have been one of the best offensive teams in the nation from an efficiency standpoint the last five years,” said Schroyer. “I’m never happy with a loss, and never will be, but I’m proud of how we executed in the second half and rebounded the ball against a bigger and more experienced team.”

McNeese trailed 34-23 at the half despite surrendering a 12-2 run to the Gaels and sinking just 5 of 21 from the field in the final 12:56.

SMC opened up its largest lead at 32-17 and then again at 34-19 but the Cowboys scored the final four points of the half on a Robinson basket then a Kennedy two-handed dunk at the buzzer on a nice pass by Harvey at the basket.

The Gaels opened the game on a 5-0 run but McNeese followed with its own 5-0 streak on a Robinson 3 and a R. Brown layup to knot things up.

The score would be tied 7-7 at the first media timeout, then again at 10-10 following a Harvey 3 at the 14:20 mark.

SMC would take a 14-10 lead into the second media, then after a jumper by Hunt cut the margin to 14-12, the Gaels got back-to-back 3s from Elijah Thomas and Jock Perry to ignite a 10-0 run.

Saint Mary’s hit 53 percent (32 of 60) for the game and was good on 42 percent aim (13 of 31) from 3-point range. The Gaels outscored McNeese 40-4 from the bench and scored 14 points off of 13 Cowboy turnovers.

McNeese will be back in action on Friday night when it visits Arizona State at 8 p.m. Central Time. The game will air on the Pac-12 Network.

The Cowboys will open their home season on Nov. 16 against Loyola (New Orleans).

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