For the third straight game, last Wednesday night, Jan. 30, saw the Dons trailing at the half without any semblance of offensive rhythm, only to see them come back and outplay their competition in the second half. The visiting St. Mary’s Gaels escaped War Memorial Gym victorious by a tally of 67-63, but the score undersells the Gaels second half collapse as well as the Dons late game rally.
Things did not start well for the Dons. St. Mary’s, led by Queensland native Jorden Page (19 pts), opened up a nine point lead just five minutes into the contest. Much like USF’s previous game against Gonzaga, the Dons struggled to find their shot early, as the home side shot 2-10 from the field to start the game. The two successful shots came from behind the arc by the hand of the struggling junior guard Cody Doolin. The usually dynamic point guard had been rather quiet in San Francisco’s past four games, averaging just six points per contest. Doolin, however, found his stroke Wednesday and paced all USF players with 16 points.
Despite the reinvigorated Doolin, USF struggled to get production on offense, particularly in the paint. The Gaels were more physical down low in the first half, offering no quarter to any Don trying to in close on the rim. The lack of a strong post game allowed St. Mary’s to strengthen their defensive game against the Dons shooters in the half court, smothering them in the corners and forcing USF to settle for contested jump shots. With the Dons recent shooting struggles, St. Mary’s was able to open up a comfortable 37-23 halftime lead.
The first portion of the second half was essentially a continuation of the first half. USF struggled to shoot the ball effectively and St. Mary’s bullied the Dons down low, as evidenced by their 44 rebounds compared to San Francisco’s 22. Despite a quieting crowd and a slumping offense, The Dons would not go quietly into the fog ridden night. Down by 16 at the six minute mark, USF willed themselves to a 10-2 run to cut the lead to eight with just over four minutes to play. After another three by Page, USF had to come up with an answer, and fast. Freshman guard Avry Holmes (10 pts) and Doolin netted a quick four points for USF, cutting the Gaels lead to 62-55 with 90 seconds remaining.
Needing to save time and limit the St. Mary’s offensive, the Don’s fouled Gael’s point guard Matthew Dellavedova on the inbound, sending him to the line. He missed one of his two free throws, giving USF the ball back at the bargain cost of a single point. Grabbing the rebound off the missed free throw, junior guard De’End Parker pushed the ball down the court, drew a foul, and with USF in the bonus, headed to the line where he sank two pressure free throws. USF fouled again on the inbound pass, which sent Gael’s guard Stephen Holt to the free throw line. Don’s fans and players watched gleefully as he clanked both off the rim. Pulling down the defensive rebound, Cole Dickerson got to ball to Doolin who found Parker for a deep three pointer with 00:27 left in the contest. Parker’s free throws and jumper closed the scoring gap to three, with USF trailing 63-60. St. Mary’s, however, was able to net a swift two points off a lay-in by guard James Walker, giving them a five point advantage with 16 seconds left to play. With the clock running, San Francisco’s freshman guard Tim Derksen (10 pts) headed straight for the bucket and put up an acrobatic two points, while simultaneously drawing a foul, earning him a chance at a three point play. Derksen netted the free throw but with only ten sconds left on the clock, USF had to foul immediately. Sadly for the Dons, who were down just two points with four seconds left, Page sunk both attempts and sealed the game for St. Mary’s. A meaningless desperation three by Holmes hit harmlessly off the rim as time expired.
The loss dropped USF to 2-7 in the WCC and 9-13 overall, but USF had little time to dwell on what could have been. Three nights later the Dons were in Malibu, again down at the half to the Waves of Pepperdine. The Dons, now well versed in second half comebacks and their fickle nature, shot the Waves out of their own gym. Connecting on 14 of their 24 three point attempts, the Dons were able to fight back from a seven point second half deficit to claim their third WCC win of 2013 by a mark of 86-78. Junior forward Cole Dickerson dropped a game high 27 points.
USF now travels to Utah to take on BYU on Saturday night.