A packed farewell at the Hilltop

Graduate student Jamaree Bouyea (#1) and redshirt senior Khalil Shabazz (#0) celebrate their final night at the Hilltop for the USF MBB vs Gonzaga game at War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center. PHOTO BY CHRIS M. LEUNG FOR DONS ATHLETICS

A student tailgate on the University Center patio led to an influx of fans bursting down the stairs for early access to the gym. What awaited them was a sold-out game flooded with fans on and below the stands with the cardboard heads of Yauhen Massalski, Patrick Tape, Jamaree Bouyea, and Khalil Shabazz floating among attendees. The USF community, overflowing with school pride, was hosting the No. 1 collegiate basketball team in the country.

On Feb. 24, Massalski, Shabazz, and Bouyea made their final game entrance into War Memorial Gymnasium at the Sobrato Center for their senior night against the Gonzaga University Bulldogs. The three player powerhouses of the historic 23-8 overall and 10-6 conference season were showered with praise by a crowd of over 3,000 people. 

“Closing my final game out at War Memorial was one for the books and I couldn’t have asked for a better atmosphere,” Bouyea said in a written statement to the Foghorn. “Although we couldn’t close my last game out with a win I’m proud of my team and coaches for everything we’ve accomplished so far.”

Andrew Nembhard opened up with a three for the Bulldogs at the first possession, but Massalski answered with two points down low. Both teams exchanged back-to-back blows, but a corner three by Tape kept the score tight early on at 9-8.

Chet Holmgren and Julian Strawther answered with their own sets of threes for Gonzaga, bringing the Bulldogs to 6-6 on the field. The Dons battled for ground despite the Bulldog’s perfect scoring, as a dish from Bouyea to Massalski drew the layup and foul down low to bring them to a four point deficit within the first four minutes.

The Bulldogs dominated the offensive boards, bringing the four point deficit to nine, but two drives down the lane in a row by Bouyea kept the Dons afloat at 20-15. A three by Shabazz and Bouyea brought the Dons to a two point deficit at 23-21, and a steal from Bouyea saved in bounds by Shabazz drove Bouyea down the lane once more to tie up the score 23-23. 

After a 6-3 run by Gonzaga, a crossover and shot just inside the arc by Shabazz kept the contest close at 29-28. Down 31-28, a foul drawn by Shabazz at the top of the arc led to three made free throws, bringing the Dons back up 31-31.

Shabazz kept up the contributions with seven more points, but the Bulldogs offense led them up 52-39 by the end of the half. A buzzer-beater three pointer by Josh Kunen closed the score at 52-42.

Although the Dons outshot the Bulldogs in three pointers throughout the second half, the scoring of 11 out of the 13 points by the Bulldogs to open the half took the best of the short deficit the Dons initially carried. 

Consistent threes by Bouyea, Julian Rishwain, and Gabe Stefanini cut into the deficit, but a lob from Stefanini down to Massalski offset a scoring run for the Dons. Bouyea found another drive down the lane and Rishwain hit another quick three, bringing the score back up to 83-73. The Bulldogs took hold for the remainder of the game, bringing themselves up six points to a final of 89-73.

Through their final game at the Hilltop, Massalski, Shabazz, and Bouyea collected a group total of 45 points and 14 rebounds: Massalski with 14 points and 8 rebounds, Shabazz with 17 points and 3 rebounds, and Bouyea with 14 points and 3 rebounds. 

Despite the loss, head coach Todd Golden remains optimistic come Selection Sunday. “We have eight quad one, quad two wins, four quad one wins, we’re top 25 in the net, top 25 in KenPom, 18 in Bart Torvik. Every metric that you can point at points to an eight or nine seat,” Golden said in the post-game press conference. “What we need to do though over the course of the next couple days to end the conference season as well as the conference tournament is just take care of business.”

The Dons closed their final game of the regular season at San Diego against the Toreros Feb. 26 with a 78-62 win, leaving them at a good spot to start the West Coast Conference Tournament Quarterfinals in Las Vegas, Nevada Mar. 5.

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