The Dons let their final game of the Golden Gate Challenge slip away, losing 90-76 to the Illinois State Redbirds on Saturday, Nov. 30 at War Memorial Gym. The loss puts the Dons at 5-4 so far for the season.
Sophomore guard Tim Derksen and sophomore forward Mark Tollefsen tried to help USF keep up with the Redbirds. Derksen scored a team-high 18 points and Tollefsen added 17 points to the scoreboard for USF.
The Dons trailed by just six at halftime, but Illinois State came out firing in the second half and extended the lead to 46-30. The Dons responded with full court pressure and decreased the Redbirds’ lead to 53-43. Quickly after, Illinois States left the Dons in the dust with an 11-2 run to create a 19-point lead. The Redbirds offense caused problems for USF all game long, forcing the Dons to a number of different defensive tactics.
“We didn’t play well and they are a tough match-up,” Head Coach Rex Walters told USFDons.com. “They are hard to guard. We threw a lot of things at them…played man-to-man, some zone and our ball screen coverage changed over the course of the game just to try to figure out how to keep those guys out of the paint. When we reacted to their penetration, the 3’s were wide open.”
Though their most recent game was a loss, the Dons still came away from the tournament with two big wins in the Golden Gate Challenge. USF defeated Vermont 72-61 on Friday, Nov. 29 at War Memorial Gym. The Dons finishing the first half with a slight 30-26 lead, but pulled away in the second half in what was a strong defensive stand.
“Having that good defensive effort was good for us,” Derksen said. “Usually we score in the 80’s and 90’s, and getting a 70-point win and holding them to 60 was good.”
Along with their defensive effort, USF also won on the boards, out-rebounding their opponents 34-27.
Senior forward Cole Dickerson led the team with a season-high 28 points, while sophomore guard Avry Holmes and junior forward Kruize Pinkins both scored 13 points. The Dons shot 51 percent from the field, but it was overshadowed by what was arguably their strongest defensive outing of the season.
“Earlier, we thought we were an offensive team, but now we need to have more of a defensive mindset.” Head Coach Rex Walters said.
The first game of the tournament was an easy win for the Dons, as they defeated Sonoma State 96-73 on Wednesday, Nov. 27. USF excelled offensively, with Dickerson scoring 26 and Derksen and junior guard Matt Glover each adding an 16 points. The Dons shot 54.5 percent from the floor while Sonoma State only managed 36.9 percent.
Overall, the Golden Gate Challenge was a positive experience for the Dons, helping them learn how to apply their defensive tactics and improve in the areas they have to work on. Even with the loss to Illinois State, the Dons seemed confident that they could regroup and bounce back.
“Playing together and believing in each other is all it takes,” Holmes said.
The Dons will now use a two-week break to work on implementing their defensive strategies and continuing to come together as a team. USF resumes play on Dec. 14, facing off against Nicholls State at War Memorial Gym at 7:00 p.m.