Locking horns

The men’s basketball team went on the road for the first time this season Thursday and nearly lost to a first-year Division-I team, but a second-half comeback led to a 20-point USF win.

The Bulls trailed most of the first half and several minutes into the second half to a Winston-Salem State (1-11), a team riding a seven-game losing streak. But a 25-5 USF (5-1) run in the second half resulted in the Bulls’ 63-43 victory.

“We huddled up, and we knew that we had to come together and tighten up on our defense,” USF senior Eddie Lovett said. “We were letting them do what they wanted to do, so we had to come together and play like a real Big East team.”

The Bulls’ – and the Big East’s – leading scorer, Melvin Buckley, was held scoreless in the first half and had just five points in the second half, but fellow senior McHugh Mattis picked up the slack and finished the game with USF’s first triple-double in 10 years and the second in school history.

Mattis, along with the help of Lovett and Solomon Bozeman (17 points), carried the Bulls during their comeback.

With Buckley on the bench with three fouls, Lovett came in as the third guard and assisted a Mattis dunk to get USF within two points.

Senior Melvyn Richardson then gave the Bulls the lead with a lay-up and free throw with 11:52 remaining in the game. The Bulls never trailed again and went on a scoring rampage while allowing just 10 points in the latter part of the second half.

“We came out the first half and didn’t play good defense,” said Mattis, who scored 22 points, 10 blocks and 10 rebounds. “We just came out in the second half and started playing better team defense and started helping out a little more on the drive and kicks.”

Prior to the win Thursday, the most Lovett had ever played in a game was 15 minutes. However, against WSSU, the Riviera Beach native played 22 minutes and scored a career-high five points, while helping out defensively.

“He came off the bench and gave us a lift on the defensive end,” Mattis said. “He put pretty good ball pressure on the point guard and allowed us to get set up in the back court.”

In 13 games played at USF, Lovett had never attempted a shot from beyond the arc – but that didn’t stop him from sinking a three-pointer in the midst of the Bulls’ rally to extend the lead to 50-38.

“It was a good feeling,” Lovett said. “I’ve been working out hard in practice, so I knew I had the confidence. I believed that I was going to make the shot, so that’s what gave me the energy to set up and shoot.”

The score sheet may not show how close the game was, but the win against the Rams was the third time in as many games that USF trailed for a significant amount of time. The Bulls fell 56-46 to Richmond on Tuesday in its only loss this season, and players are hoping the comeback win against the WSSU can spark a winning streak.

“It was a good win for us because it’s going to help us bounce back from the loss we had,” Lovett said. “We’re just going to take it and build off this game.”