The USF men’s basketball team started their season off 3-0, with three straight wins against Texas Southern University, Cal Poly SLO, and UC Merced last week.
To open the season, the Dons took on the Texas Southern University Tigers which included Shaqir O’Neal, son of NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. Both teams were NCAA Tournament teams last season.
The Dons opened the game up 10-5 with back-to-back layups from forward Zane Meeks, and a converted free throw by graduate guard Tyrell Roberts. Throughout the rest of the first half, the Dons and Tigers battled, but the Dons kept a five-point lead heading into the second half of the ball game. The Dons opened up the second half with consecutive three-pointers from Roberts and 6-8 forward Isaiah Hawthorne. The Dons finished on a 15-7 run to close the half, which included 12 first-half points from newcomer Marcus Williams.
Out of the gates for the second half, USF extended the lead to 17 after a slam dunk from seven-footer Saba Gigiberia. Despite the momentum, the Tigers didn’t give up and trimmed the lead to three with 13 minutes left in regulation. The Dons answered back with a strong 16-0 run to distance themselves 75-56. The Dons rallied and finished the game 90-77 to mark their second straight season-opening win.
The Dons carried the opening night momentum as they knocked off their next two opponents Cal Poly and UC Merced, winning both games by a margin larger than 12 points. In an interview with the Foghorn, forward Isaiah Hawthorne discussed the Dons’ start. “The biggest reason behind our great start is our offensive power and that’s praise in our depth. We’ve been solid defensively, but we haven’t even tapped into how good we can be on that side of the ball,” he said. “Our coaches have gotten us well prepared, and they’ve been heavily implementing to put the team first, and when adversity hits us to come closer together as a family.”
This 3-0 start for the team is also a 3-0 start for first-year head coach Chris Gerlufsen. Gerlufsen has utilized the depth of the Dons bench as we’ve seen a balanced attack amongst the team. Many bench players have made significant impacts such as Isaiah Hawthorne, Marcus Williams, Volodymyr Markovetskyy, and Saba Gigiberia. Hawthorne, who has been a member of the team since 2019, has seen a significant increase in minutes and is averaging career highs in nearly all statistical categories this season and this opportunity has been a long time coming.
“Coach [Gerlufsen] puts confidence into every player in our locker room, and his decision to go deep into the rotation is just a testament to how talented our team is,” he said. “He also lets us play freely with no restrictions, especially on the offensive end. With a coach like that, and a deep team like ours we can all reach the goals we set as a team and individually.”
Hawthorne also showed gratitude for his opportunity despite the obstacles he had to face. “The minutes I’ve been able to get just gave me reassurance of the love I have for this game,” he said. “Where I’m from [Tracy, CA] not many people have the opportunity to play at this level. I remember those long, doubtful nights when I had to question myself if I still loved this game. So when I get the opportunity to be on the floor and rep the logo on my chest, I make sure to give it my all no matter how many minutes I get, because I remember when I got none. ”
The Dons look to continue their dominant start as they take on Fresno State in Fresno on Nov 16. After that, they’re headed to Kansas City for the Hall of Fame Classic, which will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network on Nov. 21 and 22.