University of San Francisco guard Charles Minlend (14) dives for a ball in the second half of a game against Portland on Jan. 24, 2019, at War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center in San Francisco, Calif. Minlend scored 16 points on Jan. 26 against San Diego. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

USF Dons basketball Tournament hopes damaged in road loss to San Diego

University of San Francisco head men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith has talked extensively this season about the difficulty of winning road conference games, and on Saturday night, those difficulties manifested themselves, as the Dons had a miserable second half in a 67-63 loss to the San Diego Toreros.

Last year’s two losses to San Diego helped knock the Dons down from the NIT to the CBI, and if USF isn’t careful, Saturday’s defeat at Jenny Craig Pavilion could be what keeps the program from returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.

With senior point guard Frankie Ferrari missing his first 10 shots on the night, San Francisco (17-4, 5-2 in West Coast Conference) struggled offensively in the second half, scoring just 14 points in a 15-minute stretch.

Redshirt sophomore guard Charles Minlend split a pair of free throws 65 seconds into the second half to give the visitors a 35-21 lead, and a Matt McCarthy free throw would put the Dons up 40-30, but San Diego (14-7, 4-3) would take the lead with a 12-0 run, going ahead for the first time since the opening basket on two free throws by Yauhen Massalski, a 6-foot-10 Belarusian forward who entered the night shooting 39 percent at the line, but made three of his four free throws on the evening.

San Francisco struggled to hit clutch shots and failed to get necessary bounces. After a Nate Renfro and-1 with 8:23 left to put USF up 45-44, San Diego responded with a 13-2 surge, taking a 10-point lead on a three-point play by Isaiah Pineiro with 4:39 left.

Pineiro, a 6-foot-7 wing out of Auburn-Placer, exemplifies the Toreros’ physical style and frequently gets to the line. He made six of his seven free throws as part of his 22-point, 13-rebound performance, leading all players in both categories. Additionally, San Diego’s bruising style forced McCarthy into foul trouble after the Australian forward had played two of his best games against BYU and Portland. McCarthy scored 11 against the Toreros, but was limited to just 15 minutes.

Isaiah Wright (17 points) made it 59-49 before Ferrari finally got the Dons untracked with a 3-pointer, just one of two field goals for the senior co-captain on the night. That sparked a late San Francisco run, but two key rebounds kept the Toreros ahead down the stretch.

Having cut the lead to 60-56 on a basket by McCarthy, the Dons forced a miss at the end of the shot clock with under a minute left, but Pineiro got the offensive rebound and forced the visitors to foul. Wright made two free throws to put San Diego back up by six, and after a San Francisco miss, Massalski made one of two free throws, with Pineiro grabbing the rebound on the second. Another Wright free throw made it an eight-point game, though Ferrari would hit a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to cut it to 64-61.

Two free throws by Pineiro and one by Marin Catholic alum Joey Calcaterra in the final 10 seconds sealed the game and gave the Toreros a third straight head-to-head win over the Dons.

Minlend led San Francisco with 16 points and Renfro added 15. Massalski had 13 for the Toreros.

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