The event at the Sun Dome Saturday night looked more like a horse race than a basketball game. USF and Saint Louis stayed neck and neck until the home stretch.
The Bulls slowly pulled away from the Billikens in the last five minutes with stifling defense and kept them away in the last 20 seconds with accurate free-throw shooting to win the game 71-64.
Free throws may have ended the game, but it was the defense in the last 15 minutes that won the contest for the Bulls. Saint Louis was held to 19 points in the last 13 minutes of play, while the Bulls scored 28. The man leading the defensive charge was Gerrick Morris, who, according to USF coach Seth Greenberg, “really stepped up” when USF went from zone to man-to-man coverage.
“Gerrick Morris put on a defensive clinic in the last 12 minutes of the game,” said Greenberg. “He was so active guarding the screen. His recovery was so quick, and he was so quick to help on penetration — really magnificent.”
Lane penetration was a focal point for the Bulls coming into the game, because of the presence of Saint Louis’ Marque Perry, who likes to drive the ball straight down the middle. Perry averages 16.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
“That’s what we focused on most of the practices — the penetration and not letting the ball get into the middle,” said center Will McDonald.
Whatever USF worked on in practice seemed to be effective. The Bulls held Perry to 13 points, two assists and three rebounds. Perry was ineffective in the second half, contributing only four points through free throws and not dishing out a single assist. USF played man-to-man coverage for a better part of the second half, teaming Morris with Perry.
“I thought we did a good job on Perry and a lot of the credit for that has to go to Gerrick Morris,” Greenberg said. “You can’t guard him one on one, and he was the missing link.”
More defense came in the form of Brian Swift and Reggie Kohn, who combined to make six free throws in the last 15 seconds to keep SLU at arm’s length. Swift put down his baskets with 17 seconds remaining to make the score 67-59. Swift continues to be 100 percent on free throws this season. Kohn went 4-for-4 from the line in the last 10 seconds of the game, successfully putting the game away.
“It’s nice to make free throws at the end,” said Greenberg. “It beats missing them.”
Minutes and points were shared Saturday, as nine players stepped onto the court at one time or another. Each played at least 11 minutes and contributed at least two points.
“It was a team win, plain and simple,” said Greenberg. USF’s leading scorer was McDonald, who went 6-of-11 from the floor and 5-of-9 from the line, netting him 17 points. McDonald also contributed three blocks, two assists and four rebounds coming just shy of Morris, who pulled down five boards. Guard Jimmy Baxter also had a sound game, tacking on 15 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals.
Freshman Danny Oglesby got a large chunk of playing time again on Saturday (19 minutes) and used those minutes well, shooting 100 percent from the field, the three-point line and the free-throw line, netting nine points. Oglesby also had an assist and a steal.
“Danny is seeing a very big basket now,” said Greenberg. “When he shoots the ball, he thinks it’s going in.”
Saturday’s win marked the third consecutive victory for the Bulls, the second-longest winning streak since they took the first four games of the season. For the remainder of the season, USF alternates its home and away games. Next on the Bulls’ schedule is an away game at UAB Wednesday.
“We’re going on the road with high hopes, then we’re going to come right back home,” McDonald said.
Contact Chris Wagenheim at firstname.lastname@example.org