Santa Clara outshot and outran No. 24 Saint Mary's most of the night and held a slim lead in the second half.
What the Broncos couldn't do was outmuscle the Gaels.
That — and another big night from Matthew Dellavedova — was too much to overcome.
Dellavedova had 26 points and seven assists, Rob Jones added 14 points and 15 rebounds and No. 24 Saint Mary's held off Santa Clara 93-77 on Saturday.
"We had a chance to get some stops and didn't come up with the finished product with some rebounds and that hurt us," Broncos coach Kerry Keating said. "Even the chances that we had to get those rebounds, after we didn't finish the play we were fouling."
Saint Mary's, which moved into the Top 25 this week, outrebounded Santa Clara 53-38 and shot 45 free throws, 30 in the second half. Even on a night when Kevin Foster passed Steve Nash on the Broncos career scoring list, that was a hurdle Santa Clara couldn't get past.
Niyi Harrison had 23 points and nine rebounds for Santa Clara (8-10, 0-5 West Coast Conference). Foster added 22 but the Broncos couldn't sustain their early momentum and lost their sixth straight.
Playing in front of the first sellout crowd at the Leavey Center in nearly two years seemed to give Santa Clara a spark. So did Foster.
The Broncos' junior had eight points in the first 5 minutes and later made his third 3-pointer to put Santa Clara up 29-23 midway through the first half. Santa Clara ran into some foul trouble, which allowed Saint Mary's to make a brief run and take a 44-42 lead before Foster hit another 3.
Robert Garrett then blocked a shot by the Gaels' Tim Williams under the basket. Brandon Clark grabbed the rebound and threw a long pass to Evan Roquemore, who raced down the court for the easy layup to make it 47-44.
"We did what we wanted to do," Keating said. "We played really well in that first half. But typical of a young team, we're trying to figure out how to carry that over."
The Gaels were outhustled for most of the game and trailed midway through the second half before going on a 15-2 run to pull away for their ninth consecutive win. Saint Mary's (19-2, 9-0) is off to its best start under 11th-year coach Randy Bennett.
Jorden Page scored a career-high 19 points and Brad Waldow had 14 points and a career-best 16 rebounds for Saint Mary's, which has won six straight in the series.
Jones, who nearly had a double-double before halftime with 11 points and eight rebounds, scored on a layup to pull Saint Mary's within one at the break.
Santa Clara opened the second half as well as it ended the first, getting six points from Harrison.
Knocked out of the game earlier after crashing to the floor going for a rebound, Harrison came back and gave the Broncos a 56-52 lead with his second dunk in a 57-second span.
Bennett called a timeout to try to calm his team but it took some time for the Gaels to recover. They missed seven of 11 free throw attempts after the timeout and trailed 64-63 before going on their 15-2 run.
"They had a little run early in the second half but after that I thought we did a good job on them defensively," Bennett said. "It didn't seem like a 16-point win."
Keating, frustrated at seeing his team's shot at an upset slip away, was called for a technical foul with 4:47 left and the Gaels up 79-68.
Saint Mary's continued to pull away and went up by 14 following Stephen Holt's driving layup with just over 2 minutes remaining.
Foster, who finished 6 of 16, moved into fourth place on the Broncos career scoring list. He passed Dennis Awtry and Nash, now an NBA star with the Phoenix Suns.