WAR MEMORIAL GYM — Ever since he visited the University of San Francisco as a recruit, 6-foot-9 Finnish forward Remu Raitanen has been known as the “awkward lefty” — a nickname first given to him by the coaches that he’s since taken ownership of.
Having averaged 3.9 points per game over his first three seasons as a 38.5% shooter, he largely fit the bill, struggling to mesh in a bench role.
In Tuesday’s 100-70 win over Cal State Bakersfield, though, the senior looked like a seasoned veteran as he put up the best game of his career, scoring a career-high 19 while hitting all five of his 3-point attempts, a performance that was sorely needed as the Dons played their second consecutive game without sixth man Taavi Jurkatamm, who suffered a hand injury a week earlier against Yale.
Over their first four games, the Dons had gotten contributions off the bench from their Seattle tandem of Khalil Shabazz and Tre Anderson, but with the pair struggling in the first half, the European duo of Raitanen and Belarusian sophomore Dzmitry Ryuny stepped in.
“We were just having fun out there,” Raitanen said. “We were sharing the ball. We have a deep roster, and on any given night, anyone can step up. Obviously, Taavi’s really important to us, and with him being injured, it’s time for other guys to step up.”
After Bakersfield had gone on a 14-4 run to cut a 20-6 Dons lead to four, Raitanen sank the first of his threes on the night, a momentum-shifting shot from the top of the arc. The Roadrunners missed a layup out of a timeout that seemed to do nothing to slow any momentum, and Jimbo Lull drained a three at the other end, his second of the year and sixth of his career.
“I spent a lot of time working on a lot of different stuff over the summer, but that was one of the main things,” said the seven-footer, who also connected from beyond the arc in Saturday’s win at Southern Illinois. “Having coach [Todd] Golden, he inspires confidence from all the guys and he’s given me a lot of confidence to shoot.”
Lull’s 3-pointer served as a sign of things to come on a night where San Francisco (5-0) hit a program-record 19 threes on 25 attempts, with the big man’s coming on one of Jamaree Bouyea’s career-high eight assists. Raitanen would hit another a minute later to stretch the lead to 13, sparking a 16-6 run to close the half and open up a 47-28 advantage at the break. Smack in the middle of that run was a three by Ryuny, who scored 11.
“It was basically just get the ball and go. With guys like Khalil, Charles (Minlend) and Tre, we can all go and make plays,” said Bouyea, who led a press break that went far beyond the old adage of a hot knife slicing through butter. “They were giving us direct drives. The lane was open, they’d help and collapse and the kick-outs were there.”
The efficiency for Bouyea, who scored 17 while shooting 6-of-7 from the field and finished with four steals to accompany his eight assists, continued in the second half, as did Raitanen’s onslaught.
The Helsinki native sank his third 3-pointer off a Shabazz assist to open up a 67-49 lead after Cal State Bakersfield (2-3) had whittled a 22-point gap to 15, then drained two more on consecutive possessions to bring the lead back to 22, signaling the reserves to ride the rest of the night out.
The Dons’ reserves outscored Bakersfield’s 46-29, with Anderson and Shabazz — celebrating his 21st birthday — each finishing with eight points as they made up for their early struggles over the final minutes. Anderson’s 3-pointer on one of the final possessions of the night brought the hosts to the century mark, marking the second time in five games USF has done so this season and earning resounding approval from the crowd of 1,503.
It marked the first time the Dons have done so against a Division I opponent since December 31, 2015 in a 107-95 win over Portland. Every single player to attempt a 3-pointer for USF made one, and all eight of those shooters made at least 50% of their tries from beyond the arc.
The Roadrunners, meanwhile, hardly tried anything from outside, attempting just seven threes and connecting on three of them. Justin McCall went 2-for-4 from outside for the visitors as part of his 14-point night and Cam Allen, who scored a team-high 15, sank his lone attempt. Czar Perry (12) and Taze Moore (10) also finished in double-figures for Bakersfield, whose small contingent of fans was largely comprised of supporters for Oakland native Shawn Stith, who had five points and four rebounds.
“On our scout, they told us to keep it in, let them shoot threes and see if they would make them,” Bouyea said after his team spent a thorough 40 minutes packing defenders in the key.
Minlend and Raitanen shared high-point honors for the Dons, with Minlend going 7-of-9 from the field. Jordan Ratinho scored 13, going 3-for-5 on threes and making all four of his free throw attempts as USF went 19-of-24 from the line. Australian freshman Josh Kunen went scoreless on the night but pulled in a game-high seven rebounds.
With the win, the 34-year-old Golden became the program’s first head coach to start 5-0 in 73 years. It’s something Bob Gaillard — the program’s winningest all-time coach – or Phil Woolpert — who won two NCAA titles — or Pete Newell — whose 1949 Dons won the NIT — didn’t accomplish.