A stingy High Point (1-3) defense held South Florida’s guards in check, so senior forward Aris Williams took the game into his own hands.
He scored eight points in four minutes to give USF (2-1) the lead in the second half and helped propel the Bulls to a 59-45 win Tuesday night at the Sun Dome.
“It felt great,” Williams said. “We really stepped up our defensive intensity, and that led to a lot of those baskets.”
Williams scored a career-high 11 points — all in the second half — on a night when no USF player scored more than 14.
“We needed it,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “He had a couple of easy plays that got his confidence up. We needed him to play that way. I was proud of him, and I hope he continues to build upon his performance from tonight.”
Heath said junior Alex Rivas Sanchez inspired the team.
Rivas Sanchez sprained his ankle against Virginia on Nov. 19 and was considered doubtful for Tuesday’s game.
He played three minutes at the end of the first half.
“I thought Alex sent a great message to our big guys,” Heath said. “He comes into the game for three minutes, and he gets two offensive rebounds and four points. We had guys that had about one rebound in the first half.”
Williams said Rivas Sanchez provided a spark for the Bulls going into halftime.
“That was an inspiration to us,” he said. “He only played three minutes, but he played hard. After we saw that, we came out in the second half and knew what we had to do.”
The Bulls trailed by as many as seven points in the first half, and went into halftime trailing 28-24.
USF has been involved close battles before. Against Virginia, the Bulls and Cavaliers combined for 19 lead changes.
Once the Bulls took a 34-32 lead with 14 minutes left in the game Tuesday, they didn’t relinquish it.
“We were lackadaisical in the first half,” Williams said. “We tried to pick up the intensity in the second half, and you could see everybody talking and moving around.”
Junior guard Chris Howard, who led the Bulls with 14 points, said the Bulls need to do a better job of taking every opponent seriously.
“I definitely think we should be able to learn from this,” he said. “I know that this falls on me and my leadership.”