USF 60, ECU 50
Led by their elder members, the Bulls (11-13, 4-9C-USA) beat East Carolina 60-50 on Saturday and in turn kept their hopes of reaching the postseason alive.
Three Bulls’ seniors — guards Brian Swift and Marlyn Bryant and forward Terrence Leather — scored all but seven of USF’s points as the Bulls moved into 11th place in the conference standings. Only the top 12 teams advance to the C-USA tournament in Memphis, and USF holds tiebreakers over the three teams below them.
“The difference in tonight’s game is we came out with a sense of urgency,” said Bryant, who scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Sporting custom-made black-and-green Nikes embroidered with their names and numbers, Swift, Bryant and Leather outscored ECU by themselves.
Despite struggling a bit on the offensive end, the Bulls showed energy and heart — something Swift questioned after the Bulls’ uninspired loss at Houston on Wednesday.
“Brian said what needed to be said,” said Leather, who scored 23 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. “Some of the players needed to hear it. As a leader you know what your team needs to do, and when they’re not performing to that level night in, night out, why not call them out? That cut a switch on them. That turned a light on in some of the players heads to come out and do it for us.”
Swift certainly backed up his tough talk with 17 points and six assists.
“We just kept playing,” Swift said. “That’s all we did.”
Playing their best defense of the season, the Bulls held East Carolina (8-17, 3-10 C-USA) to 30.9 percent shooting.
“We clearly neutralized them on the boards and we defended them about as well as you can defend,” coach Robert McCullum said. “I thought that was the difference in the game.”
The Pirates managed to keep the game close and were able to cut the lead to five with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter. But then the Bulls closed the game with a 7-2 run and beat ECU for the second time this season.
“If we start playing defense first, its going to create offense,” Swift said. “We played good defense tonight and it created more offensive possessions.”
The Bulls, who cannot finish last in C-USA after being picked to do so in the preseason, won a must-win game, and are now closer to achieving a major goal they set at the beginning of the season.
“We knew what would happen if we lost this game and we knew what would happen if we won this game,” Bryant said. “I think everyone in the locker room realized our goal was to make it to Memphis.”
They better pack their new shoes.