USF is off to their best start since the 1976-77 season when they began 26-0 under head coach Bob Gaillard. That season, USF finished with an overall win-loss record of 29-2, and they also reached the first round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.
“That was nine years before I was born [and] that was back obviously when the team was fantastic and competing for national titles and [was] nationally ranked and that’s the goal of this club, I think we should have a chance to be a top 25 team come next week,” said men’s basketball head coach Todd Golden in a post-game interview with Pat Olsen that was uploaded to the USF Dons’ official Youtube channel following their eighth win of the season.
The USF men’s basketball team had much to be thankful for this past Thanksgiving weekend as they were crowned the winners of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, a four team tournament featuring the Dons, the Towson University Tigers, the University of New Mexico Lobos, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers. The event was nationally televised on Fox Sports 1.
Action began Nov. 25 as the Dons squared off against the Tigers. Both sides kept the contest fairly even in the first half, but once graduate student guard Jamaree Bouyea found graduate student forward Yahuen Massalski in the corner to sink a 3-pointer for a 10-9 lead, the Tigers could not rattle the Dons’ momentum.
At the end of the first half, the Dons led the game by nine points, and the second half began with the Tigers cutting their deficit down to five points through their efforts in the paint.
Although the Dons made 14 points in the paint and the Tigers came close with 12 in the second half, Bouyea’s total of eight field goals, four 3-pointers, and nine rebounds carried the Dons to a 71-61 win and gave USF the chance to go against the Blazers the following day in the championship game.
USF’s opposition had eliminated the Lobos from the tournament, and the Dons found themselves on the wrong end of an 0-4 deficit within four minutes of the first half. Following two dunks and a layup by Massalski, the Dons evened the score and ensured that the Tigers did not run away with the contest.
Redshirt senior guard Khalil Shabazz extended the lead with two back-to-back 3-pointers and gave the Dons their first 10-point lead of the game with a score of 22-12. The Blazers’ defense failed to stop shots from beyond the arc as Bouyea and Shabazz ran up the score 28-16. With another set of back-to-back 3-pointers, the Dons closed the first half going 6-9 from beyond the arc.
Coming out of the locker room, the Blazers went on a 7-0 run against the Dons and trimmed USF’s lead down to a mere four points. Eventually, graduate student guard Gabe Stefanini broke the tie with a 3-pointer, and junior guard Julian Rishwain followed up with a pair of 3-pointers.
Once again, the Blazers’ grit evened up the score at 43 points each with just over 11 minutes left in regulation. USF protected their lead by routinely converting on free throws, but the Blazers did not go down without a fight. Within the last 10 seconds of the second half, the Dons went 3-4 from the charity stripe, and USF’s defense got the stops it needed to stifle the Blazers’ comeback. In the end, the Dons hung on to a two-point lead and won the tournament by a score of 63-61.
Speaking with the Foghorn, Massalski said, “A lot of what people don’t see is how we’re interacting with each other behind the scenes and I believe that the relationship that you build with your teammates during practice and going head-to-head against each other is what really gets you those wins.” He continued by saying, “You don’t look at the fans, you don’t look at the opposite team, you really look at each other and you try to find that energy, that little spark, that something from the person next to you.”
With their two wins, the Dons improved to an overall win-loss record of 8-0 for the first time in 45 years. The Dons return home Dec. 4 when they host the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels at the War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center.