Back in a winning groove
South Florida men’s basketball, returned to the win column Tuesday night in a 74-65 victory against Southern Miss.
The Bulls snapped a three-game losing streak and picked up their first win in Conference USA play in front of a crowd of 3,842 people at the Sun Dome.
The win was crucial for a team that was visually upset after its last home game against UAB and battered after losing the player, their coach calls “the energizer bunny” in sophomore Marlyn Bryant.
Bryant was out for the season when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a loss against Marquette.
“I wouldn’t say a must-win game, but it was a game that was going to define who we were a little bit,” USF coach Seth Greenberg said. “I’m proud of the way our guys competed.”
Several players stepped up against the Golden Eagles with players getting more minutes and statistics.
Reggie Kohn answered his team’s call to be more assertive by putting up 10 shots, scoring 15 points, handing out 11 assists and nabbing three steals.
“He’s getting aggressive now. That’s what he should have been doing all season,” Brian Swift said. “Looking for his shot a little more. He’s helping us out on offense.”
Kohn played point and off-guard spots against the Golden Eagles, playing more minutes alongside the 5-foot-10 Swift than he had all season.
“It just takes the pressure off either one of us, whoever is at the point,” Swift said. “It gives us an extra ballhandler out there. It felt good playing with Reggie.”
Both Swift and Kohn had game-high minutes playing 37 apiece.
“I didn’t even know I played that long,” Swift said. “I think it felt good. I was trying to contribute.”
The change took the ball out of Kohn’s hand coming up the court, but also brought a smaller lineup to the floor.
The Bulls, whose zone of choice is predominately a 1-3-1, played most the game in a 3-2 because of the lack of height.
“When we are together (Kohn and Swift) we are going to play more 32 defense (3-2 zone),” Swift said. “Throughout the season, it probably will be more of me and Reggie (on the court together).”
If Swift and Kohn continue to play together, Greenberg has started preparations to play more 2-3 zone.
“That’s why we might have to look at some 2-3 zone a little bit,” Greenberg said. “And I’m the worst 2-3 coach in America.
“I spent some time with Murry Bartow (Tuesday) talking with him a little bit, because they used to play the 2-3 with those little guards at UAB.” (Bartow coached UAB last season with Morris Finley and Eric Bush as his guards)
The smaller lineup, also allowed Southern Miss to lead the teams in rebounding with 46 as opposed to 33 for the Bulls.
“We had that small lineup and they were killing us on the glass,” Greenberg said. “We had Reggie Kohn and Brian Swift sealing on the back side. Other people have to come back and rebound the ball.”
Twenty of the Golden Eagles’ boards came on the offensive side of the game as USF posted six.
Jimmy Baxter, one game removed from a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, led the Bulls’ grabbing 10 rebounds and scoring 20 points.
The 20 points was also his most since playing at Wright State on Dec. 14, including his previous two scoring totals of four points at Colorado State and five against UAB.
“I got a good supporting team. I have ups and downs. Everyone has ups and downs,” Baxter said. “I can’t worry about what’s thrown at me, I just have to move on. And my teammates sure did that.”
Another player showing added aggressiveness in his game was junior forward Gerrick Morris.
Morris was the starting power forward at the beginning of the season but was replaced by sophomore Terrence Leather Dec. 13 against Florida.
Playing his highest minute total of the season at 22, Morris had three blocks for the Bulls and started the second half.
“He played more minutes in the second half because I thought he affected some shots,” Greenberg said. “They are an undersized frontcourt, and I thought he affected some shots.”
In the first half, Leather sparked a lead that USF would not lose after the Bulls initiated their 3-2 zone defense.
USF held the Golden Eagles to 28.1 percent shooting in the first half and 36.4 total.
The Bulls’ defense stopped the Golden Eagles several times down the court, including two blocks from Morris in the half.
Leather started a USF run with a layup followed by a three-point bucket to put the Bulls up 22-19.
The Bulls picked up the victory in time for a three-game road trip beginning Saturday against Memphis.
“We needed a win at home because we lost the last one at home,” Will McDonald said. “It is a confidence-builder. It is a good win going on the road against a team we can beat.”