While most of the country is following the Cinderella story of the Ramblers of Loyola University Chicago in the NCAA tournament (See: Sanctity of Team Spirit: Sister Jean’s Rise), a lesser-known Cinderella story is playing out at the College Basketball Invitational. Over the weekend, the Ramblers secured their first appearance in the Final Four since 1963. Meanwhile, the Dons have secured their first appearance in the final of a postseason tournament since 1956. That year, the legendary Bill Russell led the Dons to the NCAA Championship and finished the season a perfect 29-0.
Gone are the days of Bill Russell. The Dons are now led by the likes of Frankie Ferrari, Jordan Ratinho and Souley Boum. On March 22 at the Sobrato Center, Ferrari poured in 18 points as the Dons defeated the Fighting Camels of Campbell University 65-62.
The Dons led for all but three minutes of the game. As nine point underdogs, the Fighting Camels managed to hang in for most of the game, as neither team led by more than 10 at any point in the game.
Nearly 1,200 fans turned out to the game. They were treated to a career performance by Matt McCarthy, who added 15 points and 14 rebounds, his most ever as a Don.
Four of the Dons’ starters also scored in the double figures. Jordan Ratinho and Chase Foster each scored 12 points. Nate Renfro scored 3 points, but contributed four rebounds, three assists, three blocks and a steal. In 23 minutes off the bench, Freshman Guard Souley Boum contributed 5 points and four rebounds.
On the other side of the ball, the Fighting Camels did not have much to show in offensive production. Guard Chris Clemons scored 18 for Campbell, as well as 6 rebounds and a pair of assists. Marcus Burk and Mogga Lado scored 14 and 10, respectively.
Both teams saw parts of their offense falter, as the Fighting Camels shot only 25 percent (5 of 20) from three-point range, while the Dons shot 53.3 percent (8 of 15) at the free throw line.
Campbell, who finished fourth in the Big South Conference, ended their season 18-16.
Looking ahead, the Dons take on the Mean Green of North Texas University in a best of three championship series. The first team to win two games takes home the 2018 College Basketball Invitational Trophy.
By the time this edition of the Foghorn goes to print, Game 1 at the Sobrato Center will have been played. Game 2 will be played in Denton, Texas, on March 28 at 5:30 p.m., PDT. If necessary, Game 3 will also be played in Denton on March 30 at 4:00 p.m., PDT. All three games will be televised on ESPNU, marking the first time this season the Dons will be playing in front of a national audience.
The Mean Green (18-17) finished seventh in the Conference USA. The one mutual opponent between the teams is the University of San Diego. On Dec. 16, the Mean Green defeated the Toreros 86-83 in overtime. The Dons have played the Toreros twice, losing 73-63 on Dec. 28, and losing 64-61 on Feb. 24. While the Mean Green have not played any opponents ranked in the top 25, the Dons have played six games against ranked oppenents, including a memorable 70-63 upset win against 15th-ranked Saint Mary’s on Feb. 15.
According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Dons have a 71 percent chance of winning Game 1 at home. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas list the Dons as a 3.5 point favorite. On the road in Game 2, ESPN gives the Mean Green a 69 percent chance of victory. In a potential Game 3, ESPN gives North Texas a 68.4 percent chance of victory.
The Dons go into the series averaging 68.9 points per game while holding their opponents to 67.7 points per game. The Mean Green have averaged 74.5 points per game, while allowing 70.7 points per game.
Regardless of the result, this week will be the final performances for a pair of Dons seniors. Forward Chase Foster has averaged 7.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in 105 games for the Dons. Mars Pasache has been with the Dons program for four years, including two years as the head manager of the team. He did not play any minutes in his USF career, but led the scout team, and was awarded the #30 jersey on Senior Night. It was his first time suiting up for the Dons.
Featured Photo: The Dons’ CBI victory over Campbell has paved the way for them to end their postseason drought. CHRIS M. LEUNG PHOTOGRAPHY