WAR MEMORIAL GYM — As Charles Minlend reeled in his gooseneck after hitting a back-breaking 3-pointer, he turned to his left.
“Attaboy, baby, let’s go,” Jordan Ratinho said, high-fiving Minlend after he’d put the San Francisco Dons up by 13 with a minute to go in a 90-81 win over Sam Houston State.
On a night where San Francisco (6-0) let a 17-point halftime lead evaporate after going away from their defensive principles, the Dons still posted 90 points for the third time this season because, at the end, they allowed their defense to fuel their offense. It’s what they’ll have to continue to do if they’re to make the postseason.
“We were on our heels, and that’s a team that understands how to win,” head coach Todd Golden said. “That was a really good game … It was the first time that we’ve had in-game adversity since the Yale game, and early in the year, we’ve got to find ways to play through it.”
San Francisco was supposed to be a more defense-oriented team that would suffocate opposing teams with Golden — Kyle Smith’s defensive coordinator for four seasons between Columbia and San Francisco — at the helm. Golden’s defense, though, that’s helped facilitate a much more free-flowing offense than last season, when Smith’s team was run primarily through senior point guard Frankie Ferrari.
Golden has spent time picking Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr’s brain, and in watching the Warriors, he’s picked up how Kerr’s motion offense flows from solid defensive principles. Golden’s focus this season has been using the defense to get the ball out quickly into transition.
The increase in transition offense has allowed San Francisco to modulate the tempo of the game, and allow a dynamic driver like Charles Minlend to have open lanes and the freedom to create, rather than trying to force shots after last year’s main (and many times only) option — Ferrari — had been shut down.
At the center of that offense has been Jamaree Bouyea, who scored a team-high 15 on Saturday with five assists. The junior out of Seaside, Calif. is not just a shot creator, but a facilitator and a dynamic athlete who draws attention, whose speed forces opposing defenses to over-commit, leaving the wings and the low post open.
While Minlend only went 1-for-4 in the first half, Bouyea went 4-of-6 and Jimbo Lull went 4-of-4, scoring the game’s first seven points, and Dzmitry Ryuny went 2-of-5 from 3-point range.
As San Francisco held the Bearkats to just 32% shooting in the first half, the Dons pulled down 20 of 23 defensive rebound opportunities, scored six points on the break (and about six more in transition) and racked up eight assists on 16 field goals to take a 49-32 lead, holding Sam Houston State scoreless for the final 3:57 and finishing the half on a 10-0 run.
“It definitely does go both ways,” said Golden. “We obviously guarded really well in the first half, were able to get rebounds off the glass. Our best offense is really transition. You get out and run, you get odd man advantages and you take advantage. But, in the second half, we just couldn’t get many stops.”
A rash of Dons fouls handed Sam Houston State a 5-for-6 start at the free throw line to begin the half. They got tentative, and, as Bouyea said afterward, “sloppy and lackadaisacal.”
“I looked up and the foul count was eight to one,” Golden said. “When you’re in the bonus and there’s 13 minutes to go in the half, it handicaps what you can do defensively. It makes it so you can’t be as aggressive.”
The Bearkats to hit 10 of 12 from the floor out of the intermission and seven of their first eight from 3-point range.
“We talked about it at halftime: When you go up 17, going into the second half, they’re going to come out playing with no fear and nothing to lose,” Golden said.
In its first five games, San Francisco scored 17.6% of their points on the fast break. the Dons were at 12.2% in the first half, but did not score a bucket on the break for the first 13:25 of the second.
“They weren’t going to sit there and just let us continue on playing that way,” Golden said. “At the end of the day, they have to make the shots, which they did. We played into that. We weren’t as strong with the ball in the second half. I thought we had a few silly turnovers, a couple things that led to transition for them.”
With 5:30 let, Bouyea swiped a steal at mid-court and hammered home a two-handed jam, but the Bearkats’ Zach Nutall hit a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to five. A careless San Francisco turnover led to another 3-pointer, this one in front of the Bearkats bench by Demarkus Lampley, cutting what was a 17-point lead down to two, causing his teammates to spring out of their seats and prompting a Dons time out.
When play resumed, Remu Raitanen stepped into a three from the left, but Nutall responded in kind.
Lull — who went 5-of-7 for 14 points — got the ball down low on the next trip down, and threw out of the post to Bouyea, who then calmly ducked under his defender and hoisted a 3-pointer to put San Francisco back up by five, 80-75. Ratinho then made a rim run and hit a lay-up in transition, while drawing the foul. He hit the and-one, giving the Dons an eight-point lead. He was then fouled going for a defensive rebound, and made another two from the line with 2:05 to go.
A minute later, Minlend hit his three from the top of the arc.
“It was a relief,” Ratinho said. “That’s what we can do.”