After playing three games in as many days this weekend at the University Hoops Classic tournament in Pittsburgh, Prairie View A&M seemed like the perfect scheduling fit for a weary USF men’s basketball team.
But by the end of the game against the Panthers, it was Prairie View A&M who was worn down by a suffocating second-half Bulls defense that paved the way for a 86-63 USF victory Wednesday at the Sun Dome.
“The pressure (was the difference) in the second half,” coach Seth Greenberg said. “We mixed up our presses a little bit, turned them over and got some things going on.”
Sandwiched between the tournament-clinching victory against Pitt Sunday and California at home this Saturday, the Panthers (1-5) figured to be little more than a glorified scrimmage for the Bulls (5-0). But tired legs from last weekend’s road trip were evident in the first half Wednesday before the Panthers, who primarily used a rotation of only six players, were unable to keep pace with the Bulls.
“We were tired,” Greenberg said. “I’m not going to lie to you. I know I was tired and they played a lot more minutes than I played at Pittsburgh.”
The Bulls appeared to be a step slow in their pressure defense during the first half, unable to convert turnovers into points as they’ve done all season. Guard Altron Jackson agreed with Greenberg that fatigue played a major role in the Bulls lackluster first half.
“We went to Pittsburgh and played three games in three days (and) I think our legs were kind of tired,” Jackson said. “So the first half we came out lackadaisical and the second half we picked up our defense.”
USF sprinted to a 6-0 lead to open the game, and it appeared the Bulls would be putting on the cruise control even earlier than anticipated. But the undermanned and overmatched Panthers proved to be pesky, keeping the first-half deficit in the 8-to-10-point range, and found themselves down just 41-33 at the half.
“They made shots in the first half (and) we didn’t really defend,” Greenberg said.
But the second half was a different story.
Leading 47-36 minutes after the intermission, the Bulls delivered an 11-0 run that proved to be the knockout punch they were unable to come up with in the first half. Reggie Kohn drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to start the rally, and the junior point guard closed the run off a turnover by threading a perfect bounce pass on the break to Jackson, who hammered home a two-handed dunk to extend the USF lead to 58-36.
“We just came out a little flat (in the first half),” Jackson said. “But you see in the second half when we play South Florida, convert defense to offense, we’re hard to beat.”
The Bulls spent the rest of the game rotating players, resting their starters and working on their highlight reel – starring Marlyn Bryant. The freshman guard intercepted a pass at midcourt and scored the two most spectacular points of the night on a one-handed windmill dunk that began at his hip and ended in the 3,570 in attendance on their feet.
USF was paced in scoring (23) and rebounding (seven) by B.B. Waldon, who poured in 16 second-half points. Greenberg praised his senior forward, who was an accurate 11-of-15 shooting, for his efforts in the second 20 minutes.
“I thought the second half, B.B. really jumpstarted us,” Greenberg said. “Gerrick Morris was very, very active. I guess that’s an understatement.”
Morris controlled the interior of the Bulls defense, recording his second straight eight-block game, six of which came during the second half. The sophomore center also chipped in nine points and drew high praise from Greenberg.
“(Morris) is Russell-esque, in terms of his instinct. He’s got a gift – there’s no other way to describe it,” Greenberg said of Morris’ shot-blocking ability.
- Brandon Wright covers men’s basketball and can be reached at email@example.com