WAR MEMORIAL GYM — The University of San Francisco withstood a spirited second-half rally from Eastern Washington University, hanging on for an 81-71 win on Thursday night.
Throughout much of the opening half, when the lead swelled to as much as 25 points, the Dons appeared poised for a lopsided win over their Big Sky opponents. Instead, the Eagles twice moved to within six points in the second half — with the final push coming with just over a minute to go.
“We bogged down offensively,” head coach Kyle Smith explained. “I just think they got momentum and sometimes a young team [has that problem]. We’ve got to work on that. We’ve been that way all year in the second half — not aggressive enough offensively.”
“If I knew [exactly what went wrong], we’d probably win every game,” Smith added with a laugh.
Matt McCarthy was the high-point man for the Dons, totaling 17 points and grabbing six rebounds. McCarthy posted his career high in points and the junior forward fouled out at the 3:11 mark.
“I’ve got a bad habit of doing that,” McCarthy said. “It was good get some points, though.”
USF slumped out of halftime, needing more than three minutes to find their first field goal, a corner 3 from Chase Foster. The senior forward accounted for 10 points, one of four Dons to reach double figures — along with McCarthy, Souley Boum (16) and Jordan Ratinho (11).
Eastern Washington whittled the Dons’ lead to just 11 points with just over 10 minutes to go and finally got within single digits with 5:37 left on the clock when Ty Gibson splashed a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired.
The Eagles twice got to within six — at the 3:11 mark and with 1:08 to go.
“We had too many fouls,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got to stop doing that. We have a tendency of doing that on defense.”
The Dons coasted into the half commanding a 45-24 advantage after hitting the Eagles with an early barrage of 3-pointers.
Less than two-and-half minutes into the game, the guests were forced to call time as the Dons opened up a 10-0 lead. The Dons knocked down six of eight 3-pointers to begin the night, pushing the advantage to 29-7. The lead ultimately ballooned to as much as 25 when the Dons pulled ahead, 36-11, at the 5:14 mark in the first period.
Five different players hit from beyond the arc, as the team shot 8-for-16 from distance in the opening 20 minutes. After the early onslaught, the Dons only hoisted five 3-pointers in the second half.
After Smith guided the Dons to a 20-13 mark in his debut season, Bill Cartwright, a six-time NBA champ and Director of University Initiatives, expects the team to continue on its upward trajectory
“Even though we’ve lost a couple home games, I think now the anticipation of winning — as opposed to the anticipation of hoping to win — is huge,” Cartwright said.
The Dons have so far had to make do without sophomore guard Charles Minlend (shoulder), the club’s only preseason all-WCC selection.
“I like our team where we’re bigger than we’ve been in eight years,” Cartwright said. “I think overall are talent is pretty good. We don’t have that one guy — a great one-on-one player — but I think team wise I think that we’re measurably better.”
Time to prepare
Courtesy of a finals break, the Dons are off until next Friday when they host UC Davis. USF visits Stanford a couple of days later for the first of the team’s six nationally televised games.