South Florida’s men’s basketball team was supposed to base its game on 6-foot-10 senior center Will McDonald and his size down low.
So far this season, the Bulls have been using their athleticism to overtake teams’ offenses and start their own by running the break.
The Bulls’ athleticism showed during Thursday’s 81-62 win against Alcorn State at the Sun Dome when they used 18 steals for points off turnovers.
With McDonald only playing 16 minutes due to four personal fouls, it allowed for other players such as Marlyn Bryant to step up.
“I just wanted to play my defense and shut down my opponent,” Bryant said. “If the opportunity is there to score I am going to take it.”
The Bulls 6-foot-3-sophomore guard provided the athletic spark for USF with three steals.
Bryant combined his defense with 4-for-5 shooting from behind the three-point line for a career-high 18 points.
Bryant’s previous high was 11 against TCU last season.
“Bryant is one of those guys who you are happy he is playing on your team,” USF coach Seth Greenberg said. “He just competes at a very high level.”
USF (3-0) and its fans were faced with a brief scare when Bryant missed an opportunity to set the Sun Dome on its feet after rimming out an alley-oop chance.
After making a three-pointer to lift the Bulls up to 65-50, he came up limping with a cramp in his left leg, and then missed the fast-break chance before requesting a substitution.
“After my first three in the second half when I came down, I started cramping up then,” Bryant said. “When Terrence threw me the alley-oop, I started cramping in both legs. I got to it; I just couldn’t put it in there.”
The Bulls continued their high-percentage shooting ways by connecting on 45.9 percent from the field and 50 percent for three-pointers. The Bulls were previously shooting a 52.8 field goal percentage with 44.7 from three.
Even with wing players such as Bryant and Jimmy Baxter contributing seven of the Bulls 18 steals for 28 points, McDonald still contributed 15 points.
“Each player on this team has a role, and the role that I play is to go out there and guard the best player on there team,” Bryant said. “Each day is going to be something different. I just have to step up to the challenge.”
McDonald came out of the game in the second half with 17:48 left, allowing Alcorn (1-3) to close the gap and bringing the Bulls’ lead from 25 points at the half to 12.
“I’m going to be honest with you: (Greenberg) thinks, and I think, that some of those fouls were b.s. fouls,” McDonald said. “I think they were just picking on me because I am bigger than them.”
As McDonald watched from the bench, the Bulls went to freshman Yusuf Baker, who had his first career double double with 11 points and 10 rebounds in 15 minutes.
“I just wanted to get the chance to play and took the game to my advantage by playing hard,” Baker said. “Anything can happen if I just play hard and concentrate on what I am doing.”
Greenberg and the Bulls were prepared for Baker’s extended playing time, giving him more reps in practice because starting forward Gerrick Morris would be playing with a bruised toe.
“If Will keeps getting in foul trouble he is going to have to grow up real quick,” Greenberg said. “We are trying to get him in the mix and into the rotation. Gerrick really severely bruised his toe in practice the other day and didn’t practice the last hour and a half, so we knew we would have to go a little deeper.”
When McDonald was in the game the Bulls went to their big man early, as the senior scored six points in the opening minutes.
“I thought we got off to a good start. The first five plays we kind of scripted,” Greenberg said. “We are kind of working on scripting our plays early in the game, making sure we get the ball where we want and to who we want to get it to.
“I thought we did a good job getting the ball down low to where Will wants to score the basketball.”
McDonald and the Bulls opened up the scoring early with a 12-2 run in the opening three minutes, including two three-pointers by Reggie Kohn.
Kohn scored 12 points, and for the first time this season, but he could not come up with a double-double, passing for five assists.
USF defeated the Braves despite 22 turnovers to Alcorn’s 20.
Kohn contributed four of the turnovers including three consecutive giveaways in the Bulls’ lackluster start to the second half.
“I thought Reggie got sped up a little bit,” Greenberg said. “He made two in a row just keeping the ball on the sideline. You have to move the defense.”
The Bulls used their own defense to gain a lead that was never lost to the Braves.
USF used both man-to-man defense and a full-court press to capture 10 steals in the first half, including a steal by 6-foot-1 freshman Danny Oglesby, who took the ball away in the Braves’ backcourt and then flushed home a one-handed jam on an Alcorn State player.
The dunk by Oglesby started a run that would end in the Bulls pulling away with a 42-27 lead.
Sandwiched in the middle of defeating Providence, a Big East Conference team, and hosting Nebraska, a Big XII team, Thursday, the Bulls continue use their long-armed wing players to create fast-break opportunities from their defense.
“Marlyn has stick-to-it-iveness. He has an attitude where he competes,” Greenberg said. “Jimmy should be a better defender. He steals the ball, but he is so athletic and so strong he should be as good a defender as Marlyn.”