Shortly before the game, Stanford’s elite freshman guard Tyrell Terry was ruled out. While it doesn’t appear to be serious, it meant Jerod Haase’s short rotation got even shorter. Against a strong San Francisco squad, that could have spelled disaster. But Daejon Davis refused to let that happen.
“I don’t know that in 8 years as a head coach now, I’ve ever been more proud of one player,” said Coach Haase, visibly choked up. “He’s growing up and doing so many things on and off the court, and it’s really been fun to be a part of.”
Like he has all year, Davis brought a high level of intensity and energy on defense from the opening tip. He was credited with 3 steals in the first half, but his deflection count was conceivably into double digits. The Dons entered as a top 30 offense per some advanced metrics, and a big part of that was their guard play. But against a pair of stoppers in Daejon and backcourt mate Bryce Wills, they couldn’t create their normal poetry.
That was the good news for the Cardinal. The bad news was they struggled to replace the production of their missing playmaker. And it wasn’t just a normal level of struggling, either. It got to the point where you wondered if it was appropriate for the children’s choir from the national anthem to watch such a sight.
The Dons had a good game plan. As is in vogue in college hoops, they tried to force most of the action from wing ball screens to the sideline, and Stanford couldn’t seem to get anything going towards the basket. They also didn’t respect new starter Lukas Kisunas in the five out system, so any assaults on the San Francisco paint were met by an extra help defender or two. In the first half, Stanford had just 1 assist against 11 turnovers, while shooting 30.8% from the field. USF led 24-18 at the break.
But once again, Daejon Davis was up for the challenge. “He absolutely sparked the team defensively, but he sparked it from a leadership perspective, and he sparked it in the second half on the offensive side of the basketball,” said Haase of his junior guard. The coaching staff made astute halftime adjustments, and found ways to get Daejon to the middle of the court and going downhill. He did the rest.
In the second half, Davis scored 14 points on 6-7 shooting, as well as dishing out 4 assists, grabbing 3 boards, and blocking a shot. His ability to finish inside against a sizable opposing lineup was remarkable. The two-man game with fellow captain Oscar da Silva was also on the menu. The German struggled his way to just 2 points in the first period, but took advantage of increased paint touches to pour in 16 after the break.
In spite of all that, the Cardinal trailed almost the entire way. Outside of the opening minutes, they didn’t take a lead until the clock was under 4 minutes and the score was 48-46. San Francisco led by as many as 11 and had a number of answers to Cardinal runs, including a four-point play midway into the second half. But once Stanford regained the advantage, Spencer Jones saw to it that it was theirs to keep.
The freshman sharpshooter had been in a mini slump. He was a surprising 0-6 from distance in San Jose, and started today’s game 1-5 from the field. But when USF was whistled for their second flopping violation, Stanford was awarded a foul shot for the Class B technical. Jones calmly sank it, and that was all he needed to heat back up. In the immediate aftermath, he hit a pair of daggers from beyond the arc and sealed the deal.
“Certainly, I have a ton of confidence in him,” said Haase. “And we’re seeing game in, game out, he has a lot of confidence in himself. Shoot, if I shot like that, I’d probably have a lot of confidence in myself, too.”
It wasn’t always pretty, but this was a big-time victory for the Cardinal. They were down one of their premier players, and took the proverbial sucker punch early on. “A year ago we probably would’ve broke down, collapsed mentally and physically,” said Davis. But they battled, and they executed, and they simply wanted it more.
James Keefe’s play was a testament to that. The big man was a pleasant surprise, and key to the second half comeback. Kisunas, Isaac White, and Jaiden Delaire all proved to be ineffective, if not liabilities. But Keefe gave the team 15 solid second half minutes, doing all the little things to help the team win.
“Keefe was our real anchor down there, calling out all ball screens, fighting with [USF center] Jimbo Lull, a big body down there,” said Bryce Wills. “Seeing him grow up before our eyes is great to see. “
Stanford was led by 18 each from da Silva and Davis. Wills added 12 and Jones finished with 10. Those four players combined for all but 6 of the team’s points. Charles Minlend led San Francisco with 18, and Jamaree Bouyea put in an impressive 15.
After tonight Stanford sits at 10-1 with a #9 ranking in the NET. This is the team that was picked #10 in the Pac-12 conference. It might not have been the most beautiful of games, but finding ways to win is the mark of a good team. They had faced such little adversity to date that a game like this, as rocky as it was, has to be seen as a positive. And that’s exactly the way the players view it.
“The way we fought back today is gonna pay dividends when we’re deep into Pac-12 play,” said Daejon Davis. “When we’re on the road or down five with two minutes left, we’re gonna look at each other like we looked at each other today, and we’re gonna get it done.”