(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Dons overcome slow start, flatten Santa Clara in second half

A slow start, an ankle injury to Khalil Shabazz and a 17-2 Santa Clara run were quickly put in the rearview mirror Thursday night as the USF Dons roared back with a strong second half to crush the Broncos, 73-50, in a game played at Kaiser Permanente Arena due to Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Khalil Shabazz turned his ankle midway through the first half but returned to score a game-high 22, including a three-point play that kickstarted USF’s 10-0 run to close the first half.

“Just an ankle twist early on,” head coach Todd Golden said. “He just needed a couple minutes to run it off, and obviously it didn’t seem to affect him down the stretch.”

Before the Shabazz and-1, Santa Clara (8-4, 2-2 West Coast Conference) had gone on a 17-2 run and allowed just one basket over eight minutes, but Shabazz and a rare appearance by freshman Anthony Roy sparked a run to close the first half that seemed to never stop after the break.

“For a young guy to come in and play like that, I’m proud of him. When we started pressing, we were able to play with a little more freedom and a little more space. It kept them from packing it in the paint so much,” Golden added.

A Dzmitry Ryuny 3-pointer off a Jamaree Bouyea offensive rebound gave San Francisco (10-7, 4-3 WCC) a 23-21 halftime lead despite making just five of 20 3-point attempts in the first half, and when those shots finally started falling, the Dons turned into a runaway train that wouldn’t stop until the final buzzer. The Dons matched their offensive output from the first half in just under eight minutes and knocked down their first five 3-point attempts of the half, including shots on consecutive possessions from Ryuny and Taavi Jurkatamm after a Josip Vrankic 3-pointer had given the Broncos a short-lived advantage on the second half’s opening possession.

Baskets by Bouyea, who kept the offense flowing despite a 5-for-15 shooting performance, and Shabazz ensured that a Jalen Williams 3-pointer wouldn’t give the Broncos any momentum, and the lead grew to double-digits with Bouyea scoring a fastbreak layup and Shabazz knocking down a three off a steal. Back-to-back baskets from Bouyea, who scored just a single point in the first half but finished with 13, made it 52-36 and forced Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek to call a timeout. Less than a minute later, Shabazz would deliver the exclamation point with a three from the top of the arc off a Samba Kane screen. The gap would reach 20 on another Bouyea basket with 4:18 to go and grew as large as 24 in the final minute when Roy finished an and-1, accompanied by enormous cheers from the Dons’ bench.

Jurkatamm finished two points shy of a double-double and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds, Ryuny scored 15 and Josh Kunen finished with 10, his second career game in double-figures.

“Josh is playing with a little more confidence,” Golden said of the Australian sophomore. “It’s part of the maturation process of a Division I player. He put a lot of time into his shooting over the summer.”

Williams led Santa Clara with 15, DJ Mitchell finished with 13 and Vrankic added 11. The Broncos were without Keshawn Justice, their second-highest scorer, after his COVID test came back inconclusive. Santa Clara’s 50 points marked a season low, and it was the lowest total the Broncos had scored against USF since January 24, 2004. They also committed 23 turnovers, including a slew of travels and other unforced errors, and the final margin marked the Dons’ fifth-largest win over Santa Clara in the series’ 113-year history.

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