Less than 48 hours removed from a loss to a feeble UMass Lowell team and less than a week after finding out their trip to Mohegan Sun would include a clash with fourth-ranked Virginia, the USF Dons stunned the Cavaliers on Friday morning in Uncasville, Connecticut, holding on in the final moments for a 61-60 win.
The victory, USF’s first over a team ranked in the top five nationally since 1981, was cemented as Sam Hauser missed a 3-pointer with two seconds left after Josh Kunen had missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with a chance to ice the game. San Francisco (2-1) gave up the final six points and went scoreless over the last two minutes, but hung on by stifling the defensive-minded Cavaliers and beating them at their own game.
A team that rode defense and slow possessions to a national championship in 2019, Virginia (1-1) got a taste of its own medicine in the last few minutes, watching the Dons take the lead on a decisive 8-0 run as Jamaree Bouyea scored the last of his game-high 19 points and both Khalil Shabazz and Taavi Jurkatamm knocked down 3-pointers for a 61-54 advantage. Shabazz, whose 31 points were the lone bright spot against UMass Lowell, finished with 14.
As for Jurkatamm, who got the start at forward and finished with a career-high eight points, his offensive development was a pivotal part of the victory.
“Taavi has always owned the tools, but now he has the confidence to go out and do it against high-level competition,” head coach Todd Golden said. “He’s a great passing big, and is really easy to play with. He’s getting better everyday.”
Known last year for his defensive prowess, the 6-foot-9 Estonian knocked down a pair of threes on the day, two of San Francisco’s 13. The Dons shot 46.4% from beyond the arc on the day.
Trailing by eight six minutes into the game, USF clawed back from an early 11-3 hole by going on an 11-0 run fueled by Bouyea and Dzmitry Ryuny (10 points), eventually taking a four-point lead before going into the break trailing just 24-21.
“We just stayed in our offense, stayed confident in what we do, and it all worked out,” Bouyea said of handling Virginia’s defense.
The Cavaliers would get the first four points of the second half on baskets by Casey Morsell and Jay Huff, but threes by Kunen and Ryuny would put USF back on top and Virginia would never lead by more than five again, taking a 44-39 lead with 8:24 left on five straight points by Tomas Woldetensae before a Shabazz four-point play would cut the lead to a single point.
After going up seven and forcing Virginia coach Tony Bennett to call a timeout, the Cavaliers would respond with a Reece Beekman putback and two Kihei Clark free throws, and after a Bouyea missed 3-pointer, a Justin McKoy layup would cut the lead to a single point. McKoy fouled Kunen with 10.2 left, and after his miss, Hauser’s bid for the win would fall short, securing the Dons their biggest win since toppling Wichita State under head coach Pete Barry in 1981, a year before the program would be temporarily shut down.