USF was able to coast to a 99-70 victory over Saint Leo in its exhibition opener despite still getting to know each other.
“Our freshman, Dominique James, he had a big game for us,” point guard Chris Howard said.
“Dominique James, he’s a hell of a player,” first-year coach Stan Heath said jokingly about the misspoken name.
Forward Dominique Jones led the way with 23 points as USF reached its highest point total since scoring 108 points on Texas Christian University in 2002.
“We only scored 99 points, hopefully we get up to 150 next time,” Heath joked. “We ran at about 70 percent … it was a moderate tempo and we can pick up the pace, the whole key is our bench.”
The up-tempo style of play was exactly what Heath was hoping to bring to the team, and the Bulls delivered plenty of exciting moments.
Freshman forward Orane Chin had the play of the game when he dunked in the face of Lions forward Eric Sharper.
“You can see he’s a real bouncy kid; you can see that,” Heath said. “Hopefully he gets to the point where he makes some shots instead of trying to be a real crowd-pleaser all the time. But he had one real nice one.”
Although Chin played well, finishing with seven points and five rebounds in 22 minutes, Heath admitted Chin was in his doghouse for “being a freshman.”
Immediately after the comment was made, Jones’ cell phone blasted during the postgame interviews.
“Freshmen, see, that’s what I’m talking about,” Heath said.
On the court, sophomore point guard Chris Howard continued the exciting play when he lifted his defender off the ground with a pump fake and fired a no-look pass through two other Lions’ players to find Kentrell Gransberry under the hoop for an easy score.
“We’re going into our second year; our first year we just hit it off on the court and now it’s just a connection,” Howard said. “It’s not like he’s a difficult target to find.”
Playing in the exhibition was something Howard had never experienced, after tearing his left ACL two seasons in a row. He finally made his USF debut last season in the middle of the year and quickly established himself as the top point guard.
Although he played well, the late start and pressure to come back quickly never allowed him to play fully healthy or maintain conditioning.
“Last year I didn’t have this opportunity to get my legs under me,” Howard said. “They basically threw me out to the wolves out there in the Big East. It was just a good game for us and I’m glad to get this started.”
Even though the Bulls dominated throughout the contest, Heath was disappointed with his team’s inability to stop the Lions’ long-range shooting.
Guard Dusty Driggs went 7-for-12 from three-point range and finished with 21 points to lead the Lions.
“You win by 29, so I think you should feel good about that,” Heath said. “We sure didn’t guard the three. We have a lot of things to work on. It seems like we had this tendency to play a little relaxed. But I saw a lot of positive things too, so as long as we’re pressuring we’ve got a chance.”