Freshmen firsts

For the returning players on the men’s basketball team, Monday’s exhibition game against Saint Leo was just a tune-up for the regular season, which starts Nov. 13 against Buffalo.

But for two newcomers to the Bulls, the 66-50 win against the Lions was a chance to play in their first college game. Freshmen guards Amu Saaka and Solomon Bozeman, both 2006 high school graduates, made their USF debuts against Saint Leo.

Saaka, a 6-foot-6 Decatur, Ga. native, started alongside senior point guard Chris Capko, while Bozeman entered the game about five minutes into the first half.

“(I was) a little jittery, but first game, you’ve always got to get pumped up for it,” said Bozeman, who finished with 10 points. “It felt real good to get out there after a long stretch of practices and preparation.”

The inexperience showed for the two freshmen early in the game when they came off the bench. With USF trailing 18-15 in the first half, Saaka nearly got his first foul when he forgot to check in with officials before walking onto the court.

Not long after Saaka’s rookie mistake, Bozeman had to be reminded by a referee to take off a bracelet he was wearing right after entering the game.

“I thought as the game progressed, they did some things well,” coach Robert McCullum said. “(They showed) some typical signs of freshmen – going too fast. It’s something you say daily: ‘Just slow down, you’re going too fast.'”

Although seniors Melvin Buckley and McHugh Mattis led the Bulls with 24 and 19 points, respectively, it was Saaka and Bozeman who evened the score, setting things up for the final lead change of the game.

With USF trailing 43-38 in the second half, Bozeman hit a lay-up and consecutive free throws, while Saaka made a free throw to tie it up. Buckley then scored three consecutive field goals to give USF the lead, which they held for the remainder of the game.

“Those two freshmen were on the floor at a time when we started playing well, and that’s great,” McCullum said. “It’ll help them grow up, and they’ll get a lot out of this.”

Along with USF going on a 22-2 run toward the end of the game, McCullum was impressed with the Bulls’ defensive play in the second half, something he said Saaka and Bozeman played a big role in.

“Especially from a defensive standpoint, they deserve a lot of the credit,” McCullum said. “The best lineup we can put on the floor defensively is when we have McHugh, Amu and Solomon on the floor at one time. Those are clearly our three best athletes.”