San Francisco Dons guard Charles Minlend shoots a 3-point shot against the University of Northern Arizona on Dec. 19, 2018, at War Memorial Gym. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

USF Dons men’s basketball escapes with win at Pepperdine thanks to Frankie Ferrari three

Most trips to Malibu don’t involve surviving high-pressure moments, whether they’re leisurely vacations or basketball trips. With a resurgent Pepperdine team, helmed by Lorenzo Romar, Malibu hasn’t been such a relaxing place this season.

The Waves, entering Saturday, were 8-2 at home this season. Then came the University of San Francisco.

The Dons, fresh off a win over Bay Area rival St. Mary’s, snuck away with a 72-69 win on Saturday night, improving to 2-0 in West Coast Conference play for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

Senior point guard Frankie Ferrari hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14.2 seconds left, and a Jamaree Bouyea steal and pair of free throws with 4.1 seconds left provided the final margin as San Francisco (14-2, 2-0) finished strong after the hosts took the lead with a 7-0 run over the prior two minutes.

Five straight free throws by Colbey Ross, including three after he was fouled beyond the arc with 1:28 left, tied the score at 67. An offensive rebound led to Nate Renfro’s fifth foul, and Kameron Edwards put Pepperdine (8-8, 1-1) in front with two more free throws with 26.5 left. That didn’t stop Ferrari and the Dons.

“We just had to stay with it and believe,” Ferrari said. “I told the guys in the timeout before those last couple of plays that if we got that one stop, I promised them I would knock down a shot.”

That timeout came after a Dons turnover on the inbound following Ross’ game-tying free throws, and the USF defense did get that stop that Ferrari was counting on. He missed a potential go-ahead jumper with 45 seconds left, but made good on his promise by hitting a three from the wing over Jade’ Smith, who Ferrari faced as a senior in high school. Smith’s St. Joseph Notre Dame team overcame a 23-point deficit to take down Ferrari’s Burlingame squad, giving Saturday night’s finish a little extra meaning.

Edwards led Pepperdine with 19 points, but his last-second attempt at a transition 3-pointer missed. The Waves also got 13 points from his younger brother, Kessler, and Smith added 13. Ross was a perfect 7-for-7 at the line to finish with 17.

In a game with 19 lead changes and 11 ties, Ferrari had just eight points and was scoreless in the second half until the decisive basket. It was largely Charles Minlend’s 21 points and 18 from Jimbo Lull that kept the Dons going in a back-and-forth affair. It was something of a homecoming for Lull, a Manhattan Beach native whose friends and family made up a significant portion of the solid USF turnout concentrated behind the Dons’ bench.

Minlend hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 6:27 left to start an 8-2 run, which also included a three by Jordan Ratinho and a dunk by Lull. Runs like those weren’t uncommon for the Dons on Saturday night, but for every USF surge, the Waves would answer, largely thanks to their dominance on the glass.

Pepperdine led 40-35 at halftime behind a 23-13 rebounding advantage and finished the game with a 41-32 edge on the boards, with 11 rebounds apiece for Kameron Edwards and Smith.

“We talked about that being the difference in the game at halftime,” Ferrari said. “All the guys made adjustments and contributed.”

Smith had seven of his rebounds in the first half and Edwards had four on the offensive glass alone, one less than USF would collect offensively for the entire game.

Though it wasn’t pretty, it was certainly enough, as the Dons won the sort of game that they had often lost in previous years. A loss would have been incredibly damaging to chances for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, and the victory allows USF to enter next Saturday’s showdown against No. 7 Gonzaga with an unblemished conference record.

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