MORAGA (AP) — Kerry Carter wasn’t bothered after he missed his first five shots. The Saint Mary’s guard was even less concerned after backcourt mate Stephen Holt fouled out.
Having already helped the Gaels cut a big second-half deficit to single digits, Carter knew none of that mattered.
Carter scored 10 points over the final 5 minutes and Saint Mary’s stormed back from 10 points down in the second half to beat Utah 70-58 on Tuesday in the first round of the NIT.
“Shots weren’t falling, and you can’t let that affect you,” Carter said. “I didn’t really do anything different. The shots just started falling.”
Carter was scoreless and not much of a factor for the first 35 minutes before heating up down the stretch. He made two 3-pointers, recorded a steal and scored on a fast-break layup to complete the remarkable comeback for the Gaels (23-11).
James Walker III added 21 points while Holt, Saint Mary’s second-leading scorer, had 15 points.
The fourth-seeded Gaels will play against Minnesota in the second round. The Gophers, the highest seed in their quadrant, beat High Point 88-81.
“That was one of the best feelings on a win that we’ve had here,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We were just bad. For our guys just to hang in there and keep fighting, it finally turned.”
Making their first appearance in the NIT since losing in the first round to Kent State in 2011, the Gaels trailed by as much as 13 and were down by double digits midway through the second half.
Walker, limited to three shots in the first half, kept Saint Mary’s close until Carter’s heroics down the stretch. Walker scored 15 points over the final 18 minutes and finished 6 of 10 from the floor.
Jordan Loveridge scored 16 points for Utah (21-12), which led the entire first half and was up 41-31 with 12:30 remaining before collapsing down the stretch. The fifth-seeded Utes missed five of their last six shots and committed four turnovers.
Before that, coach Larry Krystkowiak’s team was poised to secure its first win in the NIT in 22 years.
Instead, the Utes lost for just the third time in 17 meetings between the two schools.
It didn’t start out that way.
Utah, which last played at McKeon Pavilion during the 2001-02 season, used a pair of big runs in the first half to build an early lead.
Loveridge had five points and Brandon Taylor added a 3-pointer to help Utah jump out to an 11-0 lead. Holt halted the run with a three of his own that briefly sparked St. Mary’s before the Utes scored nine straight to go up 30-17.
It was a rough first half all-around for the Gaels. They suffered through a seven-minute scoring drought, and center Brad Waldow missed a fast-break dunk with no defender around.
“It was looking shaky for a long time there, even in the second half,” Bennett said. “(We) just kept hanging in there and trusting each other.”