The Dons jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, dominating the Notre Dame de Namur Argonauts of Belmont, Calif. 95-57 in their first game of the season on Friday night at War Memorial Gym.
Junior forward Kruize Pinkins, a transfer from Chipola College, provided instant offense off the bench, scoring a team-high 19 points in his first game as a Don. Junior guard Corey Hilliard, who came to USF this year from Midland College, also impressed in his debut with eight points and four rebounds. Senior forward Cole Dickerson and sophomore forward Mark Tollefsen both pitched in 15 points for the Dons, and junior guard Matt Glover added 12.
Taking the court for the first time since a 73-68 victory against Northern Kentucky on March 14, 2013, USF made a statement by pouncing on NDNU and destroying their hopes of a close game within the first few minutes. Backed by the usual pack of rowdy fans, the sharpshooting Dons built a 10-point lead less than four minutes into the contest. Keeping their foot on the pedal, they went into halftime with a commanding 61-25 advantage, bolstered by their impressive three-point shooting accuracy. The Dons shot 11-19 from beyond the arc in the first half, and 54 percent from the field overall.
“I thought we came out and played real hard in the first half,” Head Coach Rex Walters told USFDons.com. “We were making a lot of shots and forced some turnovers.”
Perhaps getting comfortable with their large cushion, USF came out flat-footed in he second half. The shots weren’t falling and the offense wasn’t clicking, and with 14:53 left the Argonauts had cut the lead to 65-41. The Dons regained focus,
responding with a 16-2 run to push the score to 81-43 and dismiss Notre Dame de Namur’s comeback attempt. The final touch on the victory came with 4:49 left, when Glover tossed a fancy alley-oop pass that Tollefsen threw down with authority to put the Dons up 91-48.
While San Francisco won the game going away, their effort in the final 20 minutes paled in comparison to their crisp play in the first half. The Dons shot just 2-13 from downtown in the second half, along with 13-32 from the field. They also eased up on the defensive end, allowing NDNU to connect on 11 of their 19 field goal attempts. Although USF struggled on both ends of the floor after halftime, they still forced 24 Argonaut turnovers for the game, while only committing 10 of their own.
“I didn’t really like our effort in the second half. We did a lot of good things tonight, though,” Walters told USFDons.com.
There were many positive takeaways from the Dons’ convincing 38-point win, but the two most encouraging signs may have been the performances by Pinkins and Hilliard. The two newcomers showed no signs of jitters in their first game in green-and-gold uniforms, combining for 27 points and making highlight-reel plays that brought the fans to their feet. If the duo of transfers can become consistent options for USF this season, their contributions could be what pushes the team over the hump.
According to predictions from six members of the cbssports.com staff, USF is projected to finish as high as third in the West Coast Conference (WCC) this season, and no lower than seventh. If the Dons can continue to force turnovers, move the ball on offense, and knock down their three-pointers when facing conference opponents,
they should be able to challenge the likes of WCC rivals Gonzaga, Brigham Young, and Saint Mary’s.
The score of USF’s home game against Cleveland State on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. was not available at press time. The squad will now begin to prepare for its matchup with the University of Nevada, Reno, which will come to War Memorial Gym to take on the Dons on Friday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.