The USF men’s basketball team headed east to Connecticut to play four games in five days as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off event. The Dons competed in “Bubbleville,” a facility at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville created to host college basketball events that had to be relocated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Play began Nov. 25 when the Dons took on the University of Massachusetts, Lowell River Hawks.
The River Hawks were hot offensively and took an early 14-10 lead against the Dons. However, the Dons forced seven turnovers to string together a 17-3 run and take a 27-18 lead, but the River Hawks chipped away at their deficit, and USF ended the first half leading by a score of 30-24.
Fresh out of the locker room, USF padded their lead to nine points. Four minutes into the second half, the River Hawks had scored 17 unanswered points, and the Dons found themselves trailing 50-42. A 3-pointer with 10 minutes left in the second half allowed the River Hawks to take the lead for good and beat the Dons 76-68.
Redshirt junior Khalil Shabazz and senior Jamaree Bouyea scored a combined 46 points for the Dons. Shabazz scored 31 points, one shy of his career-high 32 points, and Bouyea finished the game with 15 points.
On Thanksgiving Day, the Dons tussled with the Towson University Tigers.
In the first half, the offense was hard to come by as the Dons went 2-for-10 from the field and 1-for-6 from beyond the arc. During that time, the Tigers led by as many as six points over a 14 minute period. With three minutes left, junior Dzmitry Ryuny sank a shot from the 3-point line, giving the Dons a 24-23 lead. Bouyea drained another shot, which gave the Dons a four-point lead heading into halftime.
USF had a bountiful twenty minutes, opening the second half with an 8-0 run which ultimately increased their lead to 17 points.
Sophomore Josh Kunen drained a pair of 3-pointers which put the game on ice, and the Dons claimed a 79-68 victory.
The Dons faced their highest-ranked opponent on Nov. 27 as they played the No. 4 University of Virginia Cavaliers, the defending NCAA Division I men’s basketball champion.
Early on, the Dons trailed the Cavaliers 9-2. But USF’s defense eventually came to life and held the Cavaliers scoreless for over five minutes. During the Cavaliers’ offensive drought, the Dons’ offense scored 11 unanswered points with five points coming from Bouyea.
Eventually, the Cavaliers reclaimed their lead and forced the Dons to endure an offensive drought of their own. By halftime, the Dons trailed their opponents by three points.
The second half saw the Cavaliers extend their lead to seven points. Bouyea responded with yet another 3-pointer and USF crafted their second 11-0 run which gave the Dons a 32-28 lead. The teams traded the lead seven times, but a bucket from Bouyea put the Dons on top by one point, and Shabazz sank a 3-pointer, extending the Dons’ cushion by four points with three minutes left in the game.
A last-second 3-point attempt from the Cavaliers sailed wide, and the Dons pulled off a huge upset with a 61-60 victory. This win marked the first time since 1981 that the Dons defeated a top-five team in the country.
The Dons’ stay in Connecticut came to an end as they faced the University of Rhode Island Rams on Nov. 29.
The first half saw USF struggle offensively as they went 3-for-19 from the field and 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. The Rams used this dry spell to their advantage, taking control of the game and never letting the Dons find their rhythm. Foul troubles added to the Rams’ lead and contributed to USF’s woes. The Dons were called for 25 fouls with Ryuny and senior Taavi Jurkatamm both fouling out of the game.
With less than eight minutes left in the first half, USF showed signs of life and chipped away at the Rams’ lead. Ryuny hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Bouyea followed up with a 3-point play and another shot from beyond the arc. Not to be outdone, the Rams crafted an 18-9 run, and the Dons went into halftime staring at a 38-28 deficit.
Offensive improvements were made in the second half as the Dons shot 36.6% from the field. However, the 3-point shot was not on USF’s side, and the team went just 7-for-24 from beyond the arc.
The Rams cruised their way to a double-digit lead and eventually beat USF by a score of 84-71, ending the Dons’ time in Connecticut with a 2-2 win-loss record.
At the time of writing, the Dons are scheduled to play the California State University, Long Beach 49ers on Dec. 10 and the University of California, Berkeley Golden Bears on Dec 13.