MORAGA -- After trailing nearly the entire way, an inspired final 10 minutes kept Saint Mary's season alive.
James Walker III scored 21 points as the No. 4-seeded Gaels rallied to beat No. 5 Utah 70-58 on Tuesday night at McKeon Pavilion in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.
The win, which required overcoming a 10-point deficit with 12:30 to play, earned Saint Mary's (23-11) a second-round matchup at No. 1 seed Minnesota on Sunday. The time has yet to be announced.
Walker III called the victory, played in front of a crowd of 1,335, the Gaels' best of the year. Coach Randy Bennett went a step further.
"That was one of the best feelings on a win that we've had here, and we've had some good ones," Bennett said.
Saint Mary's, competing in the postseason for a seventh consecutive season, completed the comeback with senior Stephen Holt on the bench. The team's point guard fouled out with 5:06 to play and the Gaels trailing 50-47.
"We got in the huddle and told ourselves we have to bring it home for him," Walker III said.
After Holt's departure, Kerry Carter quickly tied the score with a 3-pointer. His steal and breakaway layup then gave Saint Mary's its first lead of the game at 52-50 with 3:58 to play.
That was just the start of what turned into a 13-0 Gaels run that essentially put the game away.
But for a half, the Gaels' performance came close to mirroring their dreadful effort against Gonzaga on Senior Night. They shot poorly and allowed Utah, which finished tied for eighth in the Pac-12 and came to Moraga having won just two road games, to get off to a red-hot start.
The Utes (21-12) opened the game with an 11-0 run and led 30-23 at halftime.
"I'm sure some of it was Utah, but some of it was us," Bennett said. "I told our guys just to hang in there and keep fighting."
Saint Mary's seniors sparked the comeback.
Holt had 15 points and Matt Hodgson, who finished with eight points and four blocks, also provided key plays.
Beau Levesque started the game 1 of 10 from the floor but connected on a 3-pointer that pushed the Gaels' lead to 57-50 with 2:40 to play. Paul McCoy ran the team well after Holt fouled out.
"I'm really proud and happy for our team, but especially for our seniors," Bennett said. "You don't get a chance to get a redo very often."
Saint Mary's (23-11) at Minnesota (21-13), TBA