Robert McCullum’s transformation of the USF men’s basketball team into an intense man-to-man defensive team is starting to take shape for Friday’s season opener against Florida Atlantic.
The Bulls put themselves and their defense to the test Friday in an exhibition contest against Saint Leo.
While the competition wasn’t quite what USF will see during the regular season, its defense still impressed en route to a 74-37 victory at the Sun Dome.
“I thought overall our level of intensity was better, and we did a better job of sustaining it (in the second half),” McCullum said. “Sometimes human nature causes you to have a let down because of the score, or because of the opponent. So we tried to work through those things in situations like that, to make ourselves better.”
The Bulls started out the game holding Saint Leo to 28 percent from the field and only 17 points in the first half.
“You look at the defensive field goal percentage, and I thought that was outstanding,” McCullum said. “Obviously, I thought they were outmanned, but we made ourselves the focus.”
In the second half, USF turned up the defense and forced 14 second-half turnovers and tallied nine steals.
“Our ball pressure was better, our ball-side defense was better and we did a much better job in the second half of denying the ball into the post,” McCullum said.
The Bulls finished with a total of 17 steals, while Saint Leo committed 24 turnovers.
“Coach every day stresses defense, defense, defense,” junior guard Brian Swift said. “Right now, that’s what we say we’re going to hang our hats on in practice. Our offense is going to come off defense, and we hope to come in a game and have 17 steals, or 10 or 15 or better steals a game. That shows that we come out playing an intense defensive game.”
While the Bulls prevented the Lions from scoring for most of the night, USF was able to do so, albeit against a much lesser opponent than it will see starting Friday.
USF shot 52.5 percent from the field, with three players scoring in double figures, while all but freshman Konimba Diarra scored at least one bucket.
“Usually your offense is going to be a little slow to come because of the timing and those kinds of things, but defense needs to have effort and intensity, and we’re trying to get guys to embrace that,” McCullum said. “And, once we get to the point where we embrace playing defense then I think perhaps we can surprise some people.”
However, 34 of the Bulls’ 79 points came from turnovers, with the half-court offense struggling at times.
“With our offensive execution, you still have guys not in the right spots or getting there late,” McCullum said. “There were some sets of plays that we should have executed better.”
The Bulls also had some players stand out who will provide a spark during the season.
Junior Bradley Mosley, who started at the No. 2 guard, scored 20 points, dished out six assists and tallied four steals without turning the ball over.
“I thought Bradley Mosley really played well,” McCullum said. “He played well on both ends.
“Defensively, his ball pressure, I thought that was as important as the scoring, because that sort of set the tone for everything else.”
Scoring also came from the Bulls’ starting power forward Terrence Leather, who scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
Another bright spot was the defensive play of center Gerrick Morris, who showed his shot-blocking skills of two years ago with five rejections, though he was called for goaltending twice.
Morris saw the second largest amount of minutes, with 31, as Diarra was the only other center available.
Junior Brandon Brigman did not dress due to “coach’s decision.” Brigman will have to put in the extra work in practice to play against Florida Atlantic on Friday.