South Florida lost its two statistical leaders at the end of last season in Altron Jackson and B.B. Waldon, but their floor general remains intact.
Point guard Reggie Kohn brought his verbal, inspirational and statistical leadership to the floor Thursday leading USF to a 65-60 victory against Nebraska in front of 5,385 at the Sun Dome and many more watching nationally on ESPN 2.
The senior, who only practices an hour and a half because of leg problems that forced him to play all last season with a left tibia stress fracture, was hustling on both defense and offense, posting 14 points, five assists and two steals for the Bulls.
“He’s just a tough little nut. That’s the only way to describe him,” USF coach Seth Greenberg said. “He’s extremely competitive. He has great leadership skills. He thinks the game.”He’s just a winning player.”
Kohn sparked the Bulls and put them ahead for good after USF posted a 10-2 run starting with under nine minutes left in the game. The run broke a 48-48 tie.
Kohn hit one of his game-high four three pointers to bring the score to 51-48 before coming up with a steal that led to center Will McDonald’s first three pointer of the season.
“We made two ridiculous shots,” Greenberg said.
McDonald brought the crowd to its feet by connecting on the first three-point shot of his career.
“I’ve had it in my locker in practice and I just had to pull it out,” McDonald said. “But you won’t see that much”
After his three-pointer, McDonald made a turnaround jump shot that left him limping to the bench with a leg cramp. He made his return to the game after two minutes on the bench.
“It is good,” McDonald said. “I caught a cramp in both my thighs”
The Bulls (4-0) hit 9-of-21 from behind the arc, including Kohn shooting 50 percent including a shot called “sick” by Greenberg, from about 25 feet out that put the score at 61-55 with 1:26 remaining.
“I had a laugh, I have to admit,” Greenberg said. “I’m sitting there going, ‘the basketball gods are smiling at me tonight.'”
The shot was what Kohn thought was possibly his deepest of the season.
“I knew it was deep,” Kohn said. “That was probably my furthest one so far.”
The score remained tight throughout the game as Nebraska kept the Bulls in check in the first half using a frontline of 6-9 center John Turek and 6-8 forward Andrew Drevo to out-rebound the Bulls 24-21 in the first half.
Nebraska (2-3) finished the game grabbing 47 rebounds while USF posted 38.
The Cornhuskers controlled the offensive glass to the point that in two consecutive offensive sets in the first half they had three consecutive offensive tips.
“We started off kind of sluggish in the first half,” McDonald said. “We were letting them push us in the back, letting them get a lot of offensive rebounds. We had to come out in the second half being a little more physical, making the first hit.”
Turek posted 10 rebounds in the first half on his way to a game-high 16.
The Bulls got help getting around the big men by shooting 42.9 percent from behind the arc.
“They help so much, and they are in the lane so much that the three-point shot is what was open tonight,” Kohn said. “(Nebraska is) so help oriented that, that is what is open.”
The Bulls mixed their defense using man-to-man and the 1-3-1 zone along with a full court press to limit the Cornhuskers offensive sets keeping them to 38 percent from the field.
After wearing down the big men the Bulls smaller forward Terrence Leather sparked an 8-2 run in the first half.
Leather fed Marlyn Bryant through traffic on the run for a dunk on the Bulls fast break.
USF used nine points off of four turnovers to capitalize on its fast break to give them a 31-23 half-time lead.
The first two plays of the game were fast break slams by Jimmy Baxter and Will McDonald.
The Bulls will use this experience against a big physical team when they travel to Florida Sunday.
“We have a score to settle with them, how they came into our house last year,” Leather said. “We just have to be ready to play.”