Semifinal #1 – San Francisco Defeated Northern Iowa 75-69
I’m not sure if this was a case of USF’s perseverance or UNI’s inability to finish, or maybe a little of both. Regardless, an 11 point halftime lead, which ballooned to 15 just a couple minutes into the second half, wasn’t enough to keep the Dons out of the championship game. A 12 percent disadvantage in field goal percentage wasn’t enough to keep the Dons out of the championship game. Losing the turnover battle by four wasn’t enough to keep the Dons out of the championship game.
What GOT the Dons into the championship game was making seven more three pointers and seven more free throws than UNI. What GOT the Dons into the championship game was a 15-6 run after falling behind by 15. What GOT the Dons into the championship game was scoring the final six points of the game. Khalil Shabazz led the way for USF, scoring 24 points on 8-16 shooting, while also collecting five rebounds and seven assists.
Semifinal #2 – Wichita State Defeated Grand Canyon 55-43
I haven’t watched a lot of college basketball in person. However, I can say that what I witnessed on Monday afternoon was one of the most dominant 12 point wins I can remember. The Shocker defense was clicking on absolutely every cylinder possible. They held Grand Canyon to just 27 percent shooting and an even more suffocating 17 percent from three point range.
What almost made it more impressive is that it wasn’t a game full of turnovers on either side (12 for each team). Wichita State simply played amazing defense for 30 seconds nearly every time down the floor. The only reason this game was even as close as it was is because the Shockers were also struggling on the offensive end. They shot just 38 percent, but it was enough to keep a double digit lead over the Antelopes for the final 12 minutes. Craig Porter and Xavier Bell led the way for the Shockers, both tallying 14 points.
Third Place Game – Grand Canyon Defeated Northern Iowa 69-67
In the first of two spectacular games on Tuesday, the Antelopes were able to exercise their semifinal demons. They scored 41 points in the first half, falling just two points shy of their total from the day before. While it didn’t end up being an offensive explosion, they did increase their shooting to 43 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep.
In the first game, they weren’t able to overcome a double digit deficit. This time however, they found themselves on the other end of the deficit. A 14 point halftime lead stayed above 10 for the first 11 minutes of the second half. The Panthers wouldn’t go away though, using a 14-4 run to cut the lead to just two with a couple minutes to play.
GCU didn’t make it easy on themselves, as they had a couple missed free throws and a turnover in the final 30 seconds of the game. However, a tip in attempt at the buzzer wouldn’t fall for UNI and Grand Canyon was able to escape with a win. The Antelopes had five players in double figures, led by Chance McMillian’s 16 points.
Championship Game – San Francisco Defeated Wichita State 67-63
The Shocker defense once again showed what it’s capable of, but the offense just wasn’t quite enough this time. When they fell behind by double digits a few minutes into the second half and didn’t get any closer until the four minute mark, it was clear that it would have to be the defense that would will them to a win.
They did all they could on that end of the floor, holding the Dons to just seven points over the final six minutes of the game. Unfortunately, they would score 16 in that span when they needed 20. A layup with just under a minute left cut the lead to just two, but that’s as close as it would get. USF went 4-5 from the line to end the game and secure a championship for Dons nation. Josh Kunen showed up when they needed him to after scoring just two points in the semifinal game. The career 32 percent three point shooter went a red hot 5-5 from deep to lead the team with 15 points.
My Tournament MVP – Julian Rishwain
Picking a player to be the tournament MVP may have been the most difficult part of writing this article, as nobody put together any sort of statistically crazy two days. What I decided to go with was the most consistent and reliable player for the winning team.
Julian Rishwain scored 24 points in USF’s two games. It may not seem like a ton, and it’s really not. However, he made three deep balls in both games and shot 46 percent from behind the arc in the tournament. He collected nine rebounds and just two fouls in his 56 minutes of game time. While his numbers don’t pop out in the boxscore, he was a steadying force for a team that struggled to find a rhythm for portions of both their games.