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USF Dons check off all the boxes in season-opening victory

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Charles Minlend dribbles the ball during the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii on Dec. 25, 2016, during the Championship Game of the Diamond Head Classic, USF MBB vs SDSU. (Courtesy / Chris M. Leung for USF Dons Athletics)

DAVIS, Calif. — An experienced and eager San Francisco Dons men’s basketball team opened the 2018-19 season with a bang on Tuesday, jumping out to an early 20-point lead and controlling the game from start to finish in a convincing 76-42 victory over the UC Davis Aggies.

Charles Minlend, back after missing the prior season with shoulder surgery, led all scorers with 16 points, including 12 in the first half as San Francisco (1-0) went into the half with a 46-26 lead over a team projected to finish third in the Big West Conference.

“It’s great to see him healthy,” said head coach Kyle Smith. “He’s such a happy kid in general, so it was hard for him to sit out last year.”

Minlend was joined in double figures by Jordan Ratinho (14 points) and Matt McCarthy (11), and though UC Davis (0-1) trimmed the lead to 15 with a 7-2 run to open the second half, the Dons shut the door from there, allowing just nine points over the final 16:49, a far cry from the countless games over the past two years in which the Dons would open up a comfortable lead but have to close out a tight game at the free-throw line.

“We’re older and talked about concentrating on that,” Smith said. “In our second closed-door scrimmage, we finally put a team away, and it’s really the first time we’ve done it in two years. We’ve had games where we’ve made shots, extended big leads and teams have been able to creep up. Let’s hope it’s the start of something.”

Defensively, USF was outstanding on the inside, contesting almost every look in the paint and outscoring the Aggies 50-22 on the interior.

“It was a huge priority,” said point guard Frankie Ferrari, who scored just two points but had seven assists and drew a pair of charges. “We know that (T.J.) Shorts is a huge driver, and we know they had shooters outside, and forcing them to take tough twos was a huge part of the game plan.”

Shorts, last year’s Big West Player of the Year and a member of this year’s Preseason all-conference team, was held to just two points on 1-of-8 shooting and was charged with six turnovers. Stefan Gonzalez, Garrison Goode and Matt Neufeld tied for high honors for the Aggies with eight points apiece.

USF was on the better end of the 18-12 turnover margin, with Ratinho picking up three steals while going 4-for-6 on 3-pointers.

A team that typically lives beyond the arc, the Dons made 6-of-22, including a pair from Remu Raitanen, who finished with eight points.

“He wasn’t healthy last year, so it was less of a sophomore slump and more that he was just injured,” said Smith of the Finnish lefty. “He gave us a lift tonight.”

Raitanen and Minlend weren’t the only ones to impress in the season opener. Jimbo Lull scored nine, pulled down six rebounds and didn’t commit a turnover as USF held a commanding 43-28 rebounding advantage, including 11-5 on the offense end. McCarthy led the way with eight, tied with Gonzalez for the game-high.

Sharing duties in the backcourt with Ferrari was Jamaree Bouyea, who scored six points, including two dunks.

“He’s a lot stronger,” Smith said of Bouyea. “He put in a lot of time with our strength coach, Justin Leach, and he’s getting more confident. He reminds me of another guy from the same high school, E.J. Rowland, who I coached at St. Mary’s.”

The Dons will return to action on Saturday when they host Maine at 2 p.m., and Arizona State will visit the Hilltop on Friday, November 16.

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