American University tipped off a difficult five-game road swing with the first of two contests in California on Thursday night at Saint Mary's. The Gaels, who are receiving votes in both national polls and came into the game with a perfect 8-0 record, continued its hot start, limiting the AU offense en route to a 59-44 victory.
Saint Mary's, an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament field last season, tied a program record with its ninth straight win to open the season, thanks large in part to junior forward Brad Waldow, who scored a game-high 17 points with three blocks.
American (3-6) was led by junior guard Darius Gardner who hit 6-of-7 shots from the field for a team-high 13 points, adding a game-high four steals.
The Eagles tied a season-high with 10 steals and hit 41.9 percent of its shots, but Saint Mary's owned the advantage on the boards, 37-19, while also getting to the line 10 more times than AU.
The Gaels were locked in from the field, playing in its home venue with a maximum capacity of 2,233, hitting 22-of-41 attempts (53.7).
American stayed with SMC throughout much of the first half, pulling to within four points, 22-18, after a 3-pointer by Gardner. Saint Mary's quickly answered with a 7-0 run, but a trey from junior John Schoof and bucket by Gardner helped AU go into the break down by only seven, 30-23.
SMC came out strong in the second, building a 16-point advantage through the first eight and half minutes of the stanza. The Gaels kept an 18-point cushion during much of the second, but two late layups by junior Kyle Kager helped AU close the game to 15 in the closing minute, but American would get no closer.
Kager finished with a career-high 13 points in a personal best 35 minutes played. He also set P.R.'s with five field goals made and10 field goals attempted.
Rookie Yilret Yiljep added seven points off the bench, grabbing a career-high five boards and tying a personal best mark with three assists.
The Eagles will look to rebound against its second-straight West Coast Conference foe, San Francisco, on Sunday, December 22, at 5 p.m., EST.