By Kellan King
Coming off a week long road trip where they split games against LMU and Portland, USF returned to the Hilltop to face the NETs 9th ranked team, the Saint Mary’s Gaels. USF came into tonight 1-4 in conference play, and was desperately searching for a big result to help turn their season around.
Both teams got off to solid starts, with USF knocking down two threes and the Gaels getting early production from Logan Johnson. At the under 16 timeout, SMC led 7-6. However, USF was sloppy early, committing four turnovers in the first five minutes. The Dons started to find some rhythm when Zane Meeks slid over to the four, and after a Meeks and one USF took an 11-8 lead, before Kyle Bowens second three of the game tied it back up.
Both teams played smothering defense, but USF knocked down some tough shots, and SMC missed some layups. Marcus Williams gave the Dons a burst off the bench, including a three to make it 17-13 USF. After trading buckets, USF led 20-18 at the under eight timeout. The Gaels found some rhythm offensively after the media timeout, and after Campolindo product Aidan Mahaney hit his first three of the game, the Gaels led 27-22. Mahaney seemed to find his stroke after that first make, scoring seven more including a layup to give SMC a 34-25 lead. After another Logan Johnson bucket, the Gaels led 39-25 going into the half. They closed the half on a 24-5 run.
USF started the second half in a diamond press, and was able to speed the game up a little, even forcing a rare SMC turnover that led to an Isaiah Hawthrone layup to cut the lead to 12. Alex Ducas responded with a transition three, but Hawthorne came right back with two straight buckets to cut the lead to eleven. Khalil Shabazz continued to struggle for the Dons, not getting good looks and missing the ones he did get.
USF continued to chip away at the Gaels lead, and after two Zane Meeks free throws the lead was only ten. Meeks had another chance to cut into the lead the next possession, but missed an open putback layup. After that possession, the Dons had two more chances to make it a single digit game, but failed to capitalize before Aidan Mahaney made a three to make it a thirteen point game and put the game out of reach. Logan Johnson started to take over late in the game, going on a personal 6-0 run to make it 65-46.
Khalil Shabazz finally got on the board with a pair of free throws, and then hit a three to make it a 14 point game. USF cut the lead back down to ten after a SMC turnover, but after an Augustas Marciulonis three and Logan Johnson dunk, the Gaels took a 15 point lead, and stemmed the final USF run. After the final two minutes, the final score was 78-61, dropping USF to 1-5 in conference.
After the game I, along with other media, spoke to USF Head Coach Chris Gerlufsen