WAR MEMORIAL GYM — The energetic and dynamic University of San Francisco men’s basketball team that was present for the first three months of the season was nowhere to be found on Saturday afternoon’s Senior Day.
When the hosts would get even the slightest bit of momentum, a Loyola Marymount basket in the paint at the other end was quick to take it away and suck the life out of the sellout crowd of 3,005.
With the Dons’ 74-69 loss to the Lions, what was once a team with hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and second place in the West Coast Conference once again sits at fourth place in the WCC, and will head to the conference tournament in Las Vegas needing a win to reach the semifinals, where Gonzaga would await.
“We have to get tougher,” head coach Kyle Smith said. “For whatever reason, mentally or physically, we’re not tough enough right now. People are going right at us, and we have to stop letting that happen.”
Loyola Marymount bullied San Francisco (21-9, 9-7 WCC) to the tune of 38 points in the paint, and momentum was hard to come by for a San Francisco team that shot 10-of-33 from 3-point range.
Dzmitry Ryuny scored 12 points, twice hitting go-ahead 3-pointers in the final six minutes for the Dons, but Eli Scott hit free throws after each 3-pointer to put the Lions (20-10, 8-8) back in front. Loyola Marymount would go ahead for good on a 3-pointer by Erik Johansson, who played just five minutes and took only one shot, with 2:01 remaining.
It was a change of pace from a day where the Lions had throttled San Francisco inside. They took a 31-25 halftime lead with 24 points in the paint and five free throws. That lead grew to 10 in the second half, and though the Dons would come back to take the lead twice and tie it once more, the Lions would never yield.
Not only was the loss San Francisco’s third in a row, but the Dons dropped six of their final 10 to close the regular season, and of the four wins in that stretch, just one was against a team outside of the bottom four spots in the WCC. It capped off a particularly difficult stretch of play for the team’s leading scorer for much of the season, Charles Minlend, who shot 3-for-13 on the day and missed all eight of his 3-point attempts, including one to tie with 40 seconds remaining and another after a pair of Jeffery McClendon free throws put Loyola Marymount up by five.
Lions senior James Batemon led all scorers with 19 points, while Scott, a familiar name for those who followed Lonzo Ball during his time at Chino Hills High School, scored 15. Loyola Marymount attempted just six 3-pointers, making two.
The postgame Senior Day ceremonies were dampened by the loss, with Frankie Ferrari, Matt McCarthy, Michael Orlich and Nate Renfro honored following the regular season finale. Ferrari had 13 points and eight assists, tying Jimbo Lull for high-scoring honors for the hosts. Lull fouled out with 3:21 left, and with the Dons getting outscored by 11 in McCarthy’s seven minutes, the Dons stuck with a smaller lineup from there. Ryuny, who scored a career-high 14 in Thursday’s overtime loss to San Diego, finished with 12.
Even with the difficult end to the regular season, the Dons are one win away from a third shot at Gonzaga, and they’ve won 20 games for a third year in a row. To face the Bulldogs, they’ll need to win at 7 p.m. next Saturday in the WCC quarterfinals, in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
“This is the closest this team has ever been,” junior Jordan Ratinho said. “We all came in together, and we’ve been together for three years.”
For all the togetherness this team has, Loyola Marymount persists as a thorn in the Dons’ side. Dating back to January 2015, the Lions have won five of nine meetings with San Francisco despite going 31-57 in WCC play over that stretch.