Despite a disappointing 64-62 loss in overtime to Santa Clara Thursday, San Diego saw their four-game skid come to a halt Saturday, defeating the University of San Francisco 73-63.
The Toreros (12-11, 5-4 WCC) controlled the first half of play against Santa Clara (12-13, 4-4 WCC), as the Broncos had more turnovers (11) than shots (seven) or points (six) with eight minutes remaining. The Toreros had a 19-6 advantage before Santa Clara cut the lead to 25-20 at halftime.
“We did a good job defensively and took advantage of some good opportunities in the first half,” said USD coach Bill Grier. “We looked fatigued in the second half and lost our rhythm defensively, but as bleak as it looked we stayed in it.”
San Diego managed to hold the Broncos’ 6'11", 260-pound senior center John Bryant in check in the first half, limiting the nation's leader in total rebounds (343) to five points and four rebounds. The second half would be an entire different story.
Bryant became a force in the second half, especially after senior forward Geno Pomare was whistled for two quick fouls five minutes in. Bryant finished with 23 points to go along with 20 rebounds and three blocks, marking his nation's-best sixth 20+ rebound game of the season.
San Diego appeared finished after Kevin Foster made it a two-possession game with 41.6 seconds remaining, draining a three-pointer in the left corner on a designed play out of a timeout. Pomare then cut the lead to two on a putback off a Matt Dorr miss with 24.6 seconds remaining.
After James Rahon made the second effort of a double bonus trip, extending the lead to three, Santa Clara fouled to put Trumaine Johnson on the free throw line, a place that would later put a damper on a career night for the sophomore point guard. After Johnson cut the lead to one by making the first but then missing the second attempt, he put back a Pomare miss with two seconds remaining, sending the game into overtime.
With his team trailing 63-62, Johnson stepped to the line with 5.7 seconds remaining in overtime having already tied a career high with 22 points. With a chance to take the lead or at least tie the game, Johnson left two attempts short as the Toreros lost their fourth straight West Coast Conference battle.
Johnson was the Toreros’ driving force all evening. Santa Clara struggled to find an answer to stop Johnson, who readily used his quickness to penetrate the Broncos defense and get to the rim.
“I can’t tell you what happened,” Johnson said of the missed free throws. “I wasn’t tired, that’s not why I missed them. I wasn’t rattled, that’s not why I missed them. I’ve just got to work on my stroke. I’ve been in that situation many times.” Johnson finished 4-8 from the free throw line.
Pomare, USD’s all-time leading scorer, finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, giving him 1,600 career points; he remains the program's all-time Division I rebounds leader, now with 829 career boards.
“I give our guys a ton of credit for fighting and battling the way they did, but I feel bad for them,” Grier said after the game. “Our confidence is really shaken badly right now. No question this group can get on a roll if we get our confidence back.”
The Toreros would make strides towards getting that confidence back in their next matchup against the University of San Francisco (9-15, 1-8 WCC).
The Toreros' starting lineup featured two new faces, juniors Chris Lewis and Roberto Mafra, replacing the team's first and third leading scores, Pomare and sophomore Rob Jones, benched for a “violation of team rules,” Grier said.
Pomare and Jones were inserted 3:38 into the game. Pomare finished with 16 points in 18 minutes, while Jones was held scoreless, logging just seven minutes. “I thought Gyno handled it well and Rob didn't,” Grier said. “(Jones) wasn't a very good teammate on the bench tonight.” Grier said the discipline will not go past this game.
Mafra (12 points, five rebounds) provided a big lift for San Diego and was an integral part of the Toreros' 18-2 run midway through the first half. The 6'9" native of Brazil said he was informed only minutes before tip-off that he would be making the fourth start of his USD career.
“It made me a little bit nervous, but I tried to be more confident in myself and just go strong to the boards and play hard,” Mafra said.
Another bright spot in the winning effort for San Diego was sophomore Matt Dorr, the lone Torero to start all 24 games this season. Dorr finished with 13 points and five rebounds, including 3-5 from three-point range.
“Tonight I was trying to focus on taking better shots, and that’s what coach Grier has been telling me,” said Dorr. “We’ve got to shoot the ball well from outside so they have to defend us and we can get the ball to Roberto and Gyno inside. Teams have been fronting them really hard and making it tough to get the ball in there.”
Coach Grier got a combined 33 points from his three-guard rotation of Dorr (13), De’Jon Jackson (11), and Johnson (nine).
“It was good to come out and play with some energy tonight,” stated Grier. “I was really worried about how we were going to be mentally coming off a tough loss to Santa Clara.”
San Diego remained dreadful from the free throw line, converting just 16-32 attempts, including missing seven on their last eight to close the game. Apart from free throw shooting, Grier would also like to see his players improve on the glass: “I would like to see some better rebounding from our guards. I think with Mafra and Gyno being such good rebounders, our guards get caught looking.”
USF got 22 points and 12 rebounds from junior forward Dior Lowhorn, the WCC’s leading scorer with 19.9 ppg.
The Toreros are on the road this week with two WCC matchups. San Diego heads to Loyola Marymount (1-22, 0-7 WCC) Thursday at 7 p.m. and then plays at Pepperdine (5-18, 2-5 WCC) Saturday at 5:30 p.m.