WAR MEMORIAL GYM — Jamaree Bouyea took about 30 seconds to get back to his feet, lying on his back, trying to catch his breath.
As he slowly hoisted himself up after falling underneath 6-foot-6, 225-pound Hampton forward Ben Stanley, teammates surrounded him.
After seeing a first-half 11-point lead evaporate, the Dons rallied behind their junior point guard after his fall early in the second half, pulling off an 89-73 win in an unusual noon weekday game two days before Thanksgiving. The win kept San Francisco undefeated as it heads into its toughest stretch of the season.
“It’s a learning experience for me today,” said first-year head coach Todd Golden. “I wasn’t super thrilled with the way we were executing, the way we were playing, but then I look up at the end of the day and we win by 16.
“I’ve got to be careful in terms of what my expectations are, and understand that there are some moments where it’s not going to be as beautiful as we want it to be.’
One reason for San Francisco’s struggles was the fact that the game against the Pirates was the odd start time.
Charles Minlend — one of four Dons to score in double figures — had to beg off a 9:30 a.m class to get to the gym in order to prepare, as did the rest of the team.
Originally scheduled early in the day to allow time for the women’s volleyball team to have their Senior Night, the game couldn’t be moved later when that event shifted to late last week. The Dons tried to invite local schools to have a field trip day to the game, only for most local schools to already be on Thanksgiving break.
So, with a sparse crowd of just over 1,000 and a cheer team that had cut class behind them, San Francisco looked largely out-of-sorts, with pervading confusion and a lack of motion on offense. Multiple times, Dons players looked for a cutting teammate who wasn’t there, and the defense that’s been their bedrock was unusually lax.
“There’s a bit of a human element, to have an early game and a little bit of a light crowd, our guys probably getting excited about going to Hawaii, there were quite a few things that we had to play through,” Golden said. “We’ve got to be better.”
After San Francisco (7-0) shot out to an 11-0 lead on the strength of a pair of Charles Minlend threes, Hampton did to San Francisco what it had done to opponents all season — forced turnovers, gathered extra possessions and got to the free throw line.
The Dons turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, while the Pirates gathered five offensive rebounds, shot 15-of-30 and took advantage of 11 San Francisco fouls to shoot to shoot 7-of-8 at the line and cut the lead to two.
“We weren’t very physical, defensively,” Golden said. “I thought we were kind of running away from contact around the rim. We’re usually pretty good defensively around the rim, and today we just weren’t. We were weak in terms of going vertically when we defend around the rim, and they’re fast … We just weren’t connected defensively. We want to run, and you can’t run when you’re pulling the ball out of the net every time.”
San Francisco kept pace by shooting 52.9% from the field in the first half with nine first-half 3-pointers, including three from Khalil Shabazz (who finished with 14 points), and a Bouyea hesitation drive in the waning moments of the first half extended the lead back to seven.
To start the second half, Bouyea fell under the basket defending Stanley, taking all of the forward’s weight on top of him as he lay prone on the ground. After Bouyea slowly got up from under Stanley (who scored a game-high 24 points), he and the Dons seemingly woke up and finally started to get stops.
“It flipped a little switch in us,” Bouyea said.
The Dons went on a 9-2 run, capped by a Bouyea three and then a fast-break layup by Jordan Ratinho with 13:30 to go to take a 66-55 lead.
Jimbo Lull held serve down low during the stretch, hitting a pair of free throws and a baby hook in the paint, part of his 16-point, nine-rebound night.
A hesitation scoop lay-up by Bouyea with 10:17 to go upped the lead to 72-60 after one of four straight Dons defensive stops, and after another Hampton miss, Minlend took a transition pass from Bouyea and turned it into a wide-open triple on the right side to up the lead to 75-60, San Francisco’s largest of the game up to that point.
The Pirates (3-3) went 2:32 without scoring, and the Dons never led by fewer than 12 after that. Bouyea finished with 16 points, seven boards and a team-high five assists.
Minlend, who went for 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting, finished things with authority, pulling up on the rim after a two-handed jam with 33 seconds to go, giving San Francisco its final 16-point lead, sending the Dons into their most difficult stretch of the season.
“It just keeps us confident, keeps us flowing,” Bouyea said. “We want to keep everyone in the right mindset.”
The team will leave Wednesday for Hawaii, where they will spend Thanksgiving together — along with Bouyea and Lull’s families — before a Friday tilt against the Rainbow Warriors. The Dons will come home to a Pac-12 back-to-back against Arizona State (Dec. 3) and Cal (Dec. 4), and then head down to Stanford on Dec. 17.