The Dons faced off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday in a close game that got away from them in the end. Gonzaga, who is ranked number two in the nation currently, ended up beating the Dons by a score of 81-70 despite a great performance from junior forward Mark Tollefsen.
Many thought the Zags were going to stroll through the game, but luckily a sold-out crowd decked in gold were ready to make some noise and shake the place up for the Dons. Throughout the entire first half, Gonzaga’s three-point sharpshooter Kevin Pangos was held to a modest seven points, and the Zags leading scorer Kyle Wiltjer earned nine points of his own.
The Zags and Dons continued exchanging buckets, and every time the Zags tried to make a push, the Dons had key stops and forced turnovers to shift momentum right back to the middle. Although the rebounding story at the half would say otherwise (14 for the Dons and 19 for Gonzaga), the Dons consistent defensive rotations and weakside helped keep the game close. With 1.9 seconds remaining Mark Tollefsen received an inbound pass and from about five feet out and skied it over an extended Bulldogs arm to beat the buzzer and knot the game at 38 going into the half.
Right out of the break the Dons applied the pressure and a steal by senior guard Matt Glover led to an open court layup for junior guard Tim Derksen giving the Dons their first lead of the night, 40-38. The entire second half kept the Don and Zag crowd on edge, with six ties and six different lead changes. With 4:10 remaining, a jumper by senior guard Corey Hilliard got the Dons within three, 65-68. After Hilliard’s jumper, the Zags couldn’t inbound the ball and had to burn two timeouts, which got the crowd screaming louder than it had all night; Zag fans were starting to get nervous. Then the fouls started piling on for USF, and the once rowdy crowd was slowly quelled.. A Tollefsen three with 1:43 remaining had the Dons within striking distance, but between a continuance of fouls, the Dons opting to play the foul game with 30 seconds left, and Wiltjer erupting for 20 points in the second half USF, was unable to pull out the win, losing by a final score of 70-81.
After the game, Coach Rex Walters told the media, “We need some guys to step up and say, ‘Hey I’m going to make a big play.’” The Dons certainly don’t have a lack in talent or heart. If Coach Walters thinks that player hasn’t stepped up yet, then maybe one of the Dons three double-digit scorers on the season could elevate to that level for the end the season. The Dons need guys with a couple screws loose, but in a good way, like Kobe Bryant and Damian Lillard. Someone needs to be the guy that wants the ball in critical situations because he thinks he’ll make it every time, but also won’t ever be bothered by the times he doesn’t.
Two nights before, the Dons gathered in the War Memorial Gym to play a match against the Portland Pilots. Portland burst out of the gate on a 10-0 run keeping the Dons scoreless for three minutes and 51 seconds, until Corey Hilliard drained a 3-pointer to get the Dons on the board. As the first half wound down the Dons were behind 29-33 in the final minute. It was a wild final minute as the Dons went on a brilliant run, starting with an assist by freshman guard Devin Watson to Kruize Pinkins for a three, after which Tim Derksen grinded out a steal and broke away for an easy layup. On the next Portland possession senior forward Kruize Pinkins blocked a Pilots shot. With time winding down, Watson found a cutting Derksen in stride for another lay-in. The score was 36-33 Dons at half.
During the first seven minutes and 18 seconds of the second half, a Pinkins layup was all the Dons could find, causing them to lose their lead which they would never get back. The deficit was in the single digits until 4:30 remaining when the Pilots got out to another double-digit lead and stayed there for the rest of the game. The 17 and 10-point efforts by Derksen and Mark Tollefsen weren’t enough when the buzzer rang and the Pilots were on top 69-57.
The men’s basketball team has five games remaining, three of which will be at home. Next up is Santa Clara University. Be sure to come out to War Mermorial Gym on Thursday, Feb. 12 at 8:00 p.m., or tune in to ESPNU to watch the Dons take on the Broncos.