San Antonio – At times Saturday, the St. Mary’s men’s basketball team seemed to toy with rival and former Heartland Conference regular-season champion Texas A&M International University.

Taking the conference opener by 21 points in a 59-38 blowout win, the Rattlers held the Dustdevils to below 40 points on the night and yielded just 14 points in the second half.

“We were expecting a championship game,” said wing Joe Monroe (RS-So., San Antonio) of the Rattlers’ expectations Saturday. “Coach (Jim Zeleznak) has been harping on it all week. This was two main contenders, two No. 1 teams right now. We just felt like we needed to give all we got and come out with intensity and challenge ourselves.”

The Rattlers (4-1, 1-0 in conference) did just that, sending a message with their victory that St. Mary’s is indeed one to contend with.

In the decisive win, Daryell Taylor (Sr., Houston) led the Rattlers with 16 points, followed by Kevin Kotzur’s (RS-Sr., La Verina, Texas) fifth straight double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Isaiah Matthews (RS-So., Texas City, Texas) led with three steals and added seven points, while starting point Christian Bower (Jr., Chandler, Ariz.) and guard Moses Sundufu (Sr., Hopkins, Minn.) each recorded three assists.

From the start it was apparent the Dustdevils (3-2, 0-1 in conference) and the Rattlers didn’t see eye to eye. The two teams came packed with intensity and aggressiveness, but it was the Rattlers who outshined by capitalizing at the bucket.

St. Mary’s captured the lead over the Dustdevils midway through the first half and never let it go, ending the half leading by 10, 34-24. The second half was when the Rattlers truly towered over Texas A&M International, holding the Dustdevils to just 14 points throughout the half.

For Monroe and the rest of the Rattlers, Saturday’s win hopes to be a statement to the rest of the conference.

“We’re trying to let everybody know that we are St. Mary’s,” says Monroe, whose powerful, one-handed slam late in the second half helped seal the victory. “And this is what we do; we win. We don’t play for Joe Monroe or Kevin Kotzur or anyone else; we play for St. Mary’s.”

With a clear vision of the Rattlers returning again to the regional tournament, St. Mary’s must first finish off its remaining non-conference schedule before facing another conference team in January.

The Rattlers will play their second-to-last home game of the calendar year Tuesday against rival Incarnate Word at 7:30 p.m. at Bill Greehey Arena.

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