Charles Minlend dribbles the ball against Stanford on Dec. 22, 2018, at War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center. (Photo Courtesy USF Athletics)

USF Dons beat Stanford, notch marquee win for Tournament bid

WAR MEMORIAL AT THE SOBRATO CENTER — With a sellout crowd on hand — including Golden State Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers — and a far larger media presence than usual, the San Francisco Dons made a statement on Saturday, with a 74-65 win over the Stanford Cardinal.

The Dons led by as much as 17, and held on down the stretch when the visitors finally heated up from 3-point range.

San Francisco forced 11 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes to hold Stanford (6-5) to 19 first-half points and led 48-31 with 13:09 left before the Cardinal doubled their offensive output over the rest of the game to put a scare into the Dons.

A Bryce Wills 3-pointer with 56.8 left cut it to 64-60, before a huge and-1 by Charles Minlend restored a seven-point lead. Even then, the Cardinal wouldn’t quit, with a Daejon Davis three. The Dons, undeterred, sealed the game at the line with Frankie Ferrari and Jamaree Bouyea combining to go 7-for-8 at the charity stripe in the final 40 seconds.

Bouyea finished with eight points and was an instrumental part of a stifling defensive effort in the first half. After Stanford jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, San Francisco (12-1) scored the next eight points between the first and second media timeouts, forcing six turnovers. Bouyea’s steal and one-handed rip put the hosts in front and blocked a Davis 3-point attempt.

“Charles was a little jittery early, and Jamaree came in to get us going.” said head coach Kyle Smith.

Those early jitters went away despite the Dons’ struggles to score in the first half, as they shot just 2-of-8 on 3-pointers, with one of the makes coming from Jordan Ratinho for the final points before the break. Minlend had 11 of his team-high 19 before halftime, banking in a three for a 15-11 lead to kick off a 10-2 run.

Ferrari handled the scoring in the second half, where he scored 15 of his 17, including five late free throws.

“We were getting good looks early,” he said. “We just weren’t putting them in.”

After Stanford trimmed the lead to 10 on a pair of free throws by Oscar da Silva (12 points), Ferrari’s 3-pointer, set up by a Matt McCarthy screen, put USF up 57-44 before the final TV timeout. Minlend answered a da Silva three with two from the line to make it 62-52 with 1:35 left before Stanford’s late 8-2 run, which was finally stopped by Minlend’s and-1 as he scored despite being held so firmly that his jersey became untucked.

“That was a big play and a great pass by Frankie,” Minlend said. “I wouldn’t say it sealed the game because they were making some really tough shots down the stretch, but it was an exclamation point.”

A Minlend block on Marcus Sheffield with 15 seconds left was the cherry on top, with the Dons egging the crowd on throughout a standing ovation as Ferrari headed to the line one last time.

KZ Okpala scored 11 for Stanford but was limited by Minlend to 4-of-15 shooting.

“He’s a great driver, but we were able to make things difficult for him,” said Minlend.

Seven-footer Jimbo Lull scored 11 for the Dons and had a career-high 15 rebounds for his first career double-double. Six of his rebounds were on the offensive end, as he thrived while fellow seven-footer Josh Sharma was on the bench for Stanford.

Lull did struggle early and two of his offensive rebounds came on his own misses, but he and McCarthy, who scored 10 points off the bench, combined to control the middle of the lane. Stanford shot just 13-of-37 on 2-pointers and struggled from outside until the Cardinal hit five of their final eight attempts to make things interesting, with Wills scoring eight of his 10 points in the final 80 seconds.

All of it combined to give the Dons their most important win of the year before an energized crowd, and unlike the big games in past years, it was truly a home crowd. Stanford fans didn’t turn out in droves like Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU supporters do, making Saturday afternoon a party on the Hilltop. Yes, USF has played games against stronger teams, like Harvard and Buffalo, but with the local influence, this one meant more, and the Dons delivered on the occasion.

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