Bulls win opener

The start of a new season for the men’s basketball team brought with it career-high performances for two of USF’s starters.

Forward Melvin Buckley and guard Solomon Bozeman combined for 52 points in the Bulls’ 77-61 win against the University of Buffalo – also the Bulls – Monday night at the Sun Dome.

Just like most games last season, USF kept it close in the first half against Buffalo (1-1) while the teams traded the lead four times, but it was USF (1-0) that went into halftime with a 31-28 edge.

The second half was a different story, as USF came out of the locker room strong. A dunk by Buckley helped USF keep the lead for the rest of the game.

“I thought that the first five minutes of the second half, as we talk about so frequently, I thought that was a pivotal time,” coach Robert McCullum said. “During that stretch, Melvin Buckley really played the way you expect a senior to play. He just kind of made some plays.”

Buckley, one of four seniors on the starting roster, was glad to get the 29 points – three more than his previous career-high – but more importantly, he wanted to get the season started with a win.

“Coaches stressed it to us all week about how important this game would be for (Buffalo) and how we needed to make sure it wasn’t more important to them than it was to us,” said Buckley, who scored 17 of his points in the first half. “Coming off of the win that we had last year, beating Georgetown, who was (an NCAA) Tournament team, we just came in on an emotional high.”

With freshman Amu Saaka suffering a concussion earlier in the week, Bozeman got the start at guard alongside senior Chris Capko. The freshman started off jittery, getting called for a five-second violation early in the game while in-bounding the ball, but as the game progressed, so did Bozeman.

With 17 of his 23 points gained after halftime, Bozeman was the game’s leading scorer in the second half.

“I’ve talked all along about the confidence that he plays with, how well he shoots the basketball, his competitiveness, and so none of those things surprised me whatsoever,” McCullum said. “He’s going to play that way all year.”

Capko had to leave the game twice in the second half apparently suffering from cramps, leaving Bozeman to drive the ball down court.

“(Bozeman) was a pressure release,” Buckley said. “I think Buffalo came in trying to key in on the two seniors – myself and McHugh Mattis – and they just weren’t ready for him. Everybody needs to be ready for him because he’s a heck of a shooter.”

The victory against Buffalo may be just one win, but for a team that went through a stretch of 17 straight losses and a nearly winless conference season last year, it was a step in the right direction.

“We just want people to know it’s going to be a different team this year,” Buckley said. “We’ve got a lot more guys getting on the floor, getting dirty (and) sacrificing their body for the game.”