With 15 minutes to go in the first half, the USF men’s basketball team, who had missed its first 10 shots, was down 13-3 against Tulane. And the 3,745 fans at the Sun Dome must have all been thinking the same thing: Here we go again.
But then Terrence Leather took over, and the Bulls (10-10, 3-6 C-USA) bounced back to finish the half on a 36-18 run. Leather had 11 points in the half — he finished with 26 on the game — and USF won its second consecutive conference game 86-66 over the Green Wave (8-12, 2-7 C-USA) on Saturday.
“That was about the most complete of a performance that we’ve had in conference play,” said head coach Robert McCullum, who, along with his assistants, sported sneakers on the bench in honor of the NABC’s Coaches vs. Cancer awareness weekend. “I thought our guys did a good job of maintaining their poise and composure.”
USF began the second half with a 12-3 run and Tulane never seriously threatened after that. Leather grabbed 12 rebounds on the way to his fifth double-double this season and, with 2:57 left in the first half, Leather scored his 1,000th career point on a one-handed dunk.
“I guess it’s a good feeling,” said Leather, who became the 16th USF player to reach the accolade. “I don’t know. I guess it’s good.”
Leather wasn’t the only Bulls senior to have a memorable game, as guards Brian Swift and Marlyn Bryant each rewrote their own record books with their respective performances.
Swift recorded the first double-double of his career — 12 points and a career-high 11 assists — and Bryant scored a career-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor. Collin Dennis and Marius Prekevicius had 10 points each. Dennis, a freshman, replaced junior James Holmes to notch his first career start for the Bulls.
“He didn’t have a great shooting night,” McCullum said. “But his intensity was outstanding. I’ve been around some awfully good freshmen during my ten years. The way he plays defensively — I don’t know if I’ve been around many who gets out there defensively the way he does.”
With three conference wins, USF has drastically increased its chances of making the C-USA tournament. The Bulls are ahead three teams they’ve beaten this year — East Carolina, Southern Miss and Tulane — and hold a tie-breaker over all three. C-USA’s bottom two teams don’t make the tournament.
“We’ve got a little bit of confidence back,” Swift said. “These last two wins are huge for us.”
McCullum recalled the early parts of the game, saying it reminded him of USF’s effortless 62-50 home loss versus Houston on Jan. 2.
“We just could not buy a basket,” McCullum said. “I’m just really proud of our guys and the way that they fought back and for the most part, maintained their intensity for the duration of the game.”
Just like its comeback versus Tulane, it seems USF is aiming for a comeback on the season.
“These last two games have been a total team effort,” Leather said.