USF rides white-hot start to victory in CBI Finals opener

WAR MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM — An early 3-point barrage got the San Francisco Dons rolling, and while the shooting did cool off in the second half, it was enough to propel the hosts to a 72-62 victory of North Texas in the first game of the best-of-three CBI Finals.

The Dons sank seven of their first eight attempts from beyond the arc, racing out to a 27-9 lead. Strong defense ensured the Mean Green would never have a chance to get closer than eight down the stretch.

“We did a really good job protecting the rim,” said head coach Kyle Smith.

Defending the perimeter was a priority, as a North Texas side that had made 40 threes across its prior three games was held to just four. Still, the Mean Green were held in check on the interior thanks to Matt McCarthy, Chase Foster and Nate Renfro. McCarthy had 11 rebounds, Foster pulled down 10 and Renfro finished with a game-high four blocks.

“We kept them out of transition,” Smith said. “When they get into transition, it’s game over.”

Foster, playing in his final home game, put together a tremendously well-rounded performance, collecting 17 points and six assists. His layup less than four minutes into the second half stretched the lead to 52-34, and provided a much-needed cushion as San Francisco (22-15) would go scoreless over the next five minutes.

“This was his redemption for Senior Night,” Smith said, referring to a tight February loss to San Diego. It turned out Foster, a native of Colorado, would get four more home games thanks to the CBI.

“Only a select few guys can win their last college game,” Frankie Ferrari said of his teammate. “There are four postseason tournaments, and we’ve got a chance to win one of them.”

The tournament is filled with young teams, but Foster had the opportunity to finish his career on a high note while also helping the USF program generate momentum for the future. Considering Loyola-Chicago and Nevada have won the tournament in recent years, the Dons are a game away from joining some very good company.

Jordan Ratinho’s incredible first half is a major catalyst for said opportunity. The sophomore went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the opening 20 minutes, and matched Foster for a game-high 17 points. The last of those threes stretched the lead to 46-28 in the final minute of the half.

“Getting out in transition opened up everything for us,” Ferrari, who had 13 points and a game-high nine assists, said. “It was a lot of the second and third passes that helped. Everyone was sharing the ball.”

As a team, the Dons had assists on 20 of their 26 field goals. McCarthy and Renfro each scored 10 points to round out the quintet of double-figure scorers. It was a McCarthy dunk with 3:03 left that helped quiet concerns, restoring a 10-point lead off a crafty feed from Ferrari at the end of the shot clock. Though USF was cold from the field in the second half, shooting just 28.6% and at one point, missing seven consecutive free throws, the McCarthy dunk provided a much-needed restoration of momentum. A Foster 3-pointer on the next possession made it 66-53, and the Dons finally hit their free throws in the waning moments to secure the series opener.

North Texas (18-18) got 15 points from Roosevelt Smart, 12 apiece from Michael Miller and Ryan Woolridge and 10 from Zachary Simmons, who had a game-high 22 rebounds.

Collectively, the Mean Green shot just 19 percent from 3-point range, a far cry from the team that averaged 92 points per game in three prior CBI contests.

The series will pick up again on Wednesday at The Super Pit in Denton, Texas. Should North Texas win, a decisive third game would be played on Friday.

Ethan Kassel

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