It was 29 degrees, windy and snowing in Chicago on Saturday, but it didn’t take long for South Florida to heat up Allstate Arena.
Sparked by its first half performance, USF scored a season-high 80 points and won its Big East road opener 80-58 at DePaul University in front of a crowd of 7,422.
“Having such a good first half gave us a lot of confidence, especially the younger guys,” said senior guard Jesus Verdejo, who scored 18 points. “The young guys have never been on the road in the Big East, so it was good for them to learn how to play on the road.”
The Bulls (6-9, 1-2) jumped in front 15-6 in the opening five minutes, shot 50 percent in the first half and took a 39-29 halftime lead.
Freshman forward Augustus Gilchrist scored 12 of his career-high 16 points in the first half.
“I remember Coach (Stan Heath) said to us in the locker room at halftime not to let up,” Verdejo said. “We tried to keep our intensity up in the second half.”
Despite USF’s hot start, the Blue Demons (8-9, 0-4) fought their way back into the game and cut the lead to 51-44 with 11:21 remaining on a three-pointer by junior Will Walker.
But USF went on a 12-2 run — in which sophomore guard Dominique Jones scored eight points — to put the game out of reach.
“Fortunately for us, we got out to a nice lead, and we just kept the confidence going and going throughout the game,” Heath said.
Jones led the Bulls with 22 points, and junior guard Chris Howard had a double-double, 12 points and 10 assists.
Heath said it wasn’t the individual effort that impressed him the most, but the way the Bulls played together. Of USF’s 30 field goals, 21 came off an assist.
“We really shared the ball,” he said. “There were a couple turnovers I wish we could have back, but we did share the ball well.”
The Bulls entered the game last in the Big East in free throw shooting, but had five players go 100 percent from the stripe and went 13-of-15 as a team.
“I don’t know what we did before the game, but we’re going to do it again next time,” Heath said. “We’re going to do the whole thing the same, snow and everything.”
The 22-point margin was the second-largest Big East victory in program history. USF defeated Rutgers 68-45 last season.
Verdejo said he hopes the win can build momentum for the Bulls.
“Now we know what it’s like to win on the road,” he said. “This game was just really, really important. That was a great win for us.”
USF will be on the road again soon. The Bulls play top-ranked Pittsburgh University on Wednesday night.
“We have the confidence now,” Verdejo said. “We know we have to go to face the
No. 1 team in the nation, but if you aren’t excited to play in that game, there’s something wrong with you.”