Coming into the season, USF was looking for a reliable third option behind seniors Reggie Kohn and Will McDonald. The Bulls may have found their new No.1.
With McDonald hampered by early foul trouble, junior Jimmy Baxter emerged as the leading scorer for the second straight game, carrying USF to a 68-64 victory.
“We’re a team now,” Baxter said. “We have unity, and we all depend on each other. We break our backs in practice, so it doesn’t matter who scores five or who scores 25, we’re going to go out there and blow our necks every night. And that’s all that counts.”
Barely a minute and a half into the game, McDonald recorded his second foul in seven seconds to make him a non-factor in the first half. The senior center took one shot and played five minutes in the opening half.
“If the cameras were on me, they saw me with that towel on my head,” McDonald said. “I was pretty upset. I started off pretty sluggish.”
Baxter responded by scoring USF’s first nine points to give his team an early 9-3 advantage. The Bulls (2-0) built a 17-13 lead, but the Friars changed to a zone defense, and USF went cold from the floor. The Bulls went scoreless for more than 5 1/2 minutes as Providence reeled off a 17-2 run to create a 30-19 lead. The Friars shot lights out from three-point range in the first, going 6-of-12.
“We were settling,” USF coach Seth Greenberg said. “We had to get the ball into the teeth of the zone, and there’s two ways to do that: on the pass or the dribble. I think we were settling to pass it around the perimeter and not penetrate the zone.”
USF reduced the deficit to four by the half behind Reggie Kohn’s backdoor alley-oop to Baxter and seven points from Brandon Brigman.
Then, McDonald re-emerged early in the second half. He hit a free throw 4:17 into the second half for his first point and added two jumpers and a tip-in to close the gap to two at 43-41.
“The coaches came up to me and told me, ‘Will, you just have to suck it up. That half’s over. There’s 20 more minutes left, and we need your leadership out there.’ And that’s what I did,” McDonald said.
Much like Providence (1-1) did in the first half, USF switched to a zone in the second half. The Bulls’ familiar 1-3-1 proved to be a difference, as USF picked up four steals in a 2 1/2-minute span to stretch its lead to 58-50. Marlyn Bryant capped the run with a steal at midcourt, then drove the court for a thunderous jam.
“It’s just a good win,” Greenberg said. “The old quote is ‘adversity breeds character,’ and if that’s true, I like the character of our team. They got us off balance with the zone, but we just grinded away and continued to defend. By continuing to defend, that kept us in the basketball game.”
For the second game in a row, it was not McDonald or Kohn who led USF in scoring, but Baxter. After putting up 18 against Division II Nova Southeastern, the junior wing player put up 16 points on the Friars, 13 in the first half when Kohn and McDonald had a combined four points.
“He had a quickness edge in the first half and got us off to a great start,” Greenberg said. “I’m just pleased with the way he’s playing, taking good shots. When he lets it come to him and uses his athleticism, that’s great.
“That three he made off Marlyn’s kick out where he started on the wing, and Marlyn penetrated and he slid to the corner, that was just like the way we do it in the drill.”