Gators’ buzzer-beater attempt falls short in battle against St. Johns

SF State Gators’ men’s basketball team are on a bus to the airport on Thursday morning. The team will take on NCAA Division I team St John’s in New York on Saturday, Nov 2, 2013. Photo by Benjamin Kamps / Xpress

For the SF State men’s basketball team, Saturday’s preseason game against St. John’s University boiled down to a last second shot attempt at the final buzzer.

With the game on the line, the ball didn’t quite hit its mark, but the Gators ultimately proved to their Division I opponent and everyone else watching, that they are serious contenders this season.

SF State flew out to Queens, New York for the nationally televised match-up with St. John’s — a team with a long history of NCAA tournament appearances coached by SF State alum and former Gator basketball player Steve Lavin. The Gators, undeterred by their own Division II status, came out looking less like underdogs and more like equals during the closely-contested game.

They flustered SJU on both offense and defense sides and led for a large part of the second half before ultimately losing. SJU won 82-80.

“It was a great experience for us,” SF State coach Paul Trevor said. “Our guys came out and played hard. We have a lot of seniors and they really showed a lot of resiliency.”

SF State senior Nefi Perdomo had a standout performance in his first game back since redshirting last year due to a broken arm. The guard’s team-high 23 points and 4-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc paced the Gators from start to finish.

“I was excited to play after being off for a whole year, and I wanted to win,” Perdomo said. “I was definitely in the zone.”

Newcomers to the team also had a major impact on the game. Junior forward Udun Osakue added another 15 points, as well as 5 rebounds, in his debut as a Gator. The recent Fresno City College transfer shook off defenders several times during the game with his quick first step and his ability to drive to the basket.

As a team, SF State made 51 percent of its field goal attempts — 56 percent from three-point land – while holding St. John’s to only 41 percent shooting. The Gators also proved to be tough defenders, forcing their opponent to make 18 turnovers.

“We credit San Francisco for playing a tough game,” said St. John’s leading scorer, point guard D’angelo Harrison, who finished the night with 29 points. “You have to give them credit: They had a game plan, they executed it, and they played a great game.”

The score remained close throughout the game, with both teams alternately leading or trailing. With less than two minutes left on the clock, the Gators were up, 80-79.

They couldn’t seem to connect, however, on their last few shot attempts, Harrison hit a jumper and a free throw with seconds left to give the Red Storm their first lead since early in the second half. As the clock winded down, SF State had a final chance to retake the lead but a three-point attempt by William Overton Jr. fell short at the buzzer.

“We were all pretty mad that we lost a game we felt we should have won,” Perdomo said. “But (I think) it goes to show that later when we’re playing at our best, when we’re playing together as one, nothing will be able to stop us.”

Although the Gators didn’t come away with a win, Trevor believes his team gained a valuable learning experience during the trip.

“We were hoping to use the experience as a platform to come together as a team, get to know each other on the road, and to learn about some of our strengths and weaknesses while we competed at a high level,” Trevor said. “I think that we accomplished all those goals while performing pretty well against a highly touted St. John’s team.”

With seven seniors and five returning starters, SF State is currently ranked third in the California Collegiate Athletic Association preseason poll. The team made it to the CCAA semifinals last year and finished fourth overall with a 13-9 conference record and a 16-12 season record.

The Gators will open up their regular season Tuesday, Nov. 19, at William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif.