The Dons pulled off a hard-fought win on Wednesday night as they squeaked past Cleveland State to a final score of 91-82. The final score does not correctly reflect how closely these two teams played throughout the game. The Vikings lead 65-56 with 9:17 left to play in the second half, but the Dons came back on an impressive run to take the lead. The turning point of the game was when guard Cody Doolin fed Mark Tollefen an alley-oop with just over 8:00 left in the game. From then on out, USF played at their tempo and kept CSU at bay. War Memorial Gym lit up and the crowd did not back down until the final buzzer sounded.
It’s no surprise that Cleveland State kept the Dons honest as they played tight defense and took advantage of scoring points in the paint. The Vikings had great depth and Coach Gary Waters kept his team fresh on the court. The Vikings quickly fought off an early 8-0 deficit to start the game and stuck with the Dons until pulling away early in the second half. Things just slowly fell apart for CSU as the Dons pulled away near the end of the match up.
Tolly Time: Not only did Mark Tollefsen provide a much-needed boost with an alley-oop with just over 8:00 minutes left in the game, but he was also the Green & Gold’s leading scorer on Wednesday night. Tolly scored 18 points and tacked on two rebounds and three assists. This is the second time in as many games that Mark has led USF in scoring. Honorable mention goes to Time Derksen with 17 points off the bench and the game tying three with about 6:30 left in the game. Derksen shows that his freshman year success was no fluke.
Kruize Control: I’ve seen Kruize Pinkins play in the San Francisco Pro-Am, and one game in a Dons uniform. Over the summer in the Pro-Am, Kruize was able to carry a team on his back and lead them to victory. Tonight’s game made one eye-opening fact clear – Kruize is going to have to adapt to D-1 game play. A few times during last night’s game, Kruize seemed to have trouble positioning himself for a rebound. Players at this level, especially centers like Devon Long from Cleveland State, are going to try to push Kruize around. It’s going to be up to Pinkins to find a way to get the job done. Successfully, Pinkins seemed to find his groove and make an impact on the floor near the end of the game. I am happy to see that Kruize was able to figure out how to play his game in a Division-1 environment. He finished the game with 9 points and 3 rebounds.
Golden Glove: A significant story coming into Wednesday night’s match up was a reunion of Trey Lewis and Matt Glover. Both of these young men transferred out of the Penn State program after the 2011-2012 season. Glover made his biggest impact defensively with three steals. However, foul trouble kept Glover on the bench longer than anticipated. Glover finished the game with 12 points and four assists. Trey Lewis also scored 12 points but he was able to add five assists. Both of these transfers will make a huge impact for their respective teams the rest of the way.
Hilliard at the Hilltop: For the second straight game, Corey Hilliard seemed giddy on the floor. Similar to Kruize Pinkins, this was Corey’s first game this season against a D-1 squad. With improved awareness and proper shot selection, Hilliard can become a dangerous weapon off the bench. I believe Rex Walters needs to coach Hilliard on the importance of being a team player on the court and having the eye to find the open man. When Corey hits the open man, great things will happen. Hilliard is not far off from making the Dons a consistent scoring threat through the entire 40 minutes of a game.
Doooo-lin: Cody Doolin is not selfish. His 11 assists last night fueled USF to a win over a defensively minded Cleveland State squad. After the Notre Dame de Namur game, I mentioned that Doolin failed to score a point. Last night, Cody was able to find the basket and scored his first points of the 2013-2014 season. He finished with 6 total points but has clearly not left his potential mark in the Dons scoring column. I can only see Cody getting stronger as the season progresses.
Grab Some Pine: During last weeks win over D-2 squad Notre Dame de Namur, everyone on the Dons roster found some minutes on the floor. Tonight, Matt Christiansen, Tao Xu, and Gavin Hoffman stayed on the bench. As the Dons continue their season, production from a deeper bench will be key against the top-tier teams in the WCC. As those games approach, these players will be called off the bench and expected to produce.
Looking Ahead: Cleveland State is a solid team that should make some noise in the Horizon League this year. Before conference play in 2014, they have match ups against Kentucky, Akron, Kent State, Drexel and Toledo. I believe that a W over the Vikings will prove to be a great asset on USF’s resume when the final RPI standings are complied.
Next on the San Francisco slate is a rematch with Nevada. Last year, UNR outlasted the Dons in Reno during a low scoring affair. Both teams have improved, but I believe the Dons have a better team that can thrive off a home court advantage. It’s tough to gauge, but I cannot see the Dons having a tougher time with the Wolf Pack then they had with the Vikings.
The Dons finish off their four game stand to open the season when they play Idaho State on Monday. From there, the Dons go on the road for two games and scheduled to play Oregon, currently ranked 18th in the nation.