By Kellan King
After a tough 0-2 start to conference play for the USF, things didn’t get any easier as the Dons welcomed the ninth ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs to the Hilltop. The Dons got off to a quick start behind three three’s from Zane Meeks, Tyrell Roberts, and Khalil Shabazz, which gave USF an early 11-3 lead. The Zags stayed poised offensively though, going back to their bread and butter in Drew Timme, who layed it in to cut the lead to three.
After the under 16 timeout, Saba Gigiberia checked in for USF, and immediately contributed with a layup late in the shot clock to put the Dons up 15-11. Both teams continued their hot shooting starts, trading deep threes, including one from Josh Kunen to give the Dons a three point lead. After some more good offensive possessions from both teams, the USF lead remained three, 23-20.
Zane Meeks started to carry the load offensively for USF later in the half, scoring five quick points including an and one that put USF up by six, and moments later a Khalil Shabazz three extended the Dons lead to nine, their largest of the night. With around six minutes in the half, the Dons offense started to fall apart, with turnovers on four straight possessions, including two by Khalil Shabazz. However, Gonzaga wasn’t able to fully capitalize, and at the under four timeout it was 38-30.
Shabazz got the Dons offense going again though, hitting two tough, contested threes on broken possessions to get USF back up double digits. At the two minute mark, Drew Timme spun into the paint for a layup that cut the USF lead to nine, and also passed Gonzaga great Adam Morrison for third the all-time Gonzaga points record. USF ended the half strong with an Isaiah Hawthorne tip in to make it 46-36.
The Zags started the second half strong, and after Anton Watson’s second three of the game the lead was cut to six. They continued to pour it on, and a Julian Strawther three capped an 11-1 run going into the under 16 timeout that made it 51-49 USF. Both teams started to go cold in the next five minutes, with both the Zags and Dons trading missed shots, with some USF turnovers mixed in. However, despite their struggles the Dons led by four with ten to play. With around eight minutes left, the Dons jumped on a loose ball and called timeout to retain possession. However, on the ensuing inbound play, they couldn’t get the ball in, and called another, leaving USF with zero timeouts with tons of time on the clock.
After the consecutive timeouts, USF found some rhythm. Tyrell Roberts hit a deep three, Josh Kunen hit a layup, and Roberts hit another layup to make it 66-61 Dons. With around six minutes to play, it felt like USF might pull away, but a fastbreak Rasir Bolton three cut it back to three and steadied the Zags. However, USF punched right back, and a Josh Kunen three forced Mark Few to take a timeout with Gonzaga trailing 71-65.
Rasir Bolton continued to be the Zags go to man, hitting a pair of NBA range threes to cut the USF lead to two, and then a Roberts turnover led to a breakaway Nolan Hickman layup. The Dons responded with a Tyrell Roberts turnaround, but the Zags refused to lose, responding with an Anton Watson dunk with just under a minute to play.
USF then had their chance, and Khalil Shabazz got an open three that rimmed out, and the Zags then posted Drew Timme up, who missed a layup, but Rasir Bolton flew into the key for a put back plus the foul. Bolton’s free throw missed though, and the Dons got the rebound with seven seconds to play. However, their last possession went nowhere, ending with Shabazz not getting a shot off, and the Zags survived on the road, 77-75.
After the game I, along with other media, spoke to Head Coach Chris Gerlufsen and Senior Guard Khalil Shabazz