USF coach Seth Greenberg spoke Thursday about the Bulls’ “three-headed monster” at center, saying he will go with whoever has the hot hand that game.
Sometimes it has been Will McDonald.
Sometimes it has been Gerrick Morris.
Saturday, it was Mike Bernard.
Bernard made the most of his 18 minutes, scoring 16 points and coming up with a huge block to lead the Bulls (12-3, 3-0 in Conference USA) past DePaul 70-63 and stay tied at first place in the National Division with Memphis.
“Coach has been giving me the opportunity the last three or four games,” Bernard said. “I’m living up to the way Coach wants me to play.”
Bernard, who missed the first eight games of the season due to an NCAA suspension, took over the game late, scoring 13 of his career-high 16 points in the second half.
“Coach wants us to come out and play hard, push other people around,” Bernard said. “There’s three big bodies to go in, (so we need to) use up all the size we can (and) push people around and get physical in there.”
Bernard was also responsible for twice shifting the momentum back in favor of the Bulls when the Blue Demons began to make their run. Despite USF being up by as much as 40-28 in the second half, the Blue Demons managed to trim USF’s lead before Bernard came up big.
Midway through the second half, with DePaul closing the gap, the 6-foot-11, 280-pound senior received the ball a few feet from the basket. Bernard backed his man down, drop-stepped to his right, spun and nearly detached the rim from the backboard with a two-handed slam dunk.
“I’ve been working on that (dunk) all summer,” Bernard said. “That’s the way I played in Europe, that’s the way I’m going to play all season.”
Then, with USF up five points with just a little more than three minutes to play, Bernard rejected Andre Brown’s layup, which caromed to a streaking Marlyn Bryant, who had gotten behind the defense. Bryant raced down court for an uncontested slam and a 64-57 lead.
“You need to grind out some tough, ugly road wins (in Conference),” Greenberg said. “You could probably look up in the dictionary and see South Florida-DePaul as a tough, ugly road win.”
While it was Bernard who helped USF hold off the Blue Demons in the second half, it was Altron Jackson who got the Bulls out to a 34-26 halftime lead. Jackson scored 17 of his game-high 24 points in the first half to go along with 12 rebounds.
“Altron Jackson rebounding the ball today was just unbelievable,” Greenberg said. “He was so active on the glass. He came up with big rebound after big rebound in traffic, and in the first half, I thought he put us on his back and made a lot of big plays.”
Jackson and Bernard shouldered the offensive load as B.B. Waldon, who was playing with a fractured cheekbone, was held to four points and six rebounds. Reggie Kohn, McDonald and Bryant finished with eight points each.
- Brandon Wright covers men’s basketball and can be reached at email@example.com