First-year coach Stan Heath is holding up his end of the bargain.
When he was introduced as the eighth men’s basketball coach in USF team history, Heath said he would need to install an exciting offensive scheme and win ball games to attract fans to the Sun Dome.
After dropping the first three games of the season, USF climbed back to .500 with an 81-67 win over East Carolina.
“It’s not Indiana- or Kentucky-nuts yet, but we’ll get there,” Heath said of the attendance of 2,992 Saturday night. “It’s a football Saturday and the school had a big win. Maybe the fans are still out getting a soda.”
Through two games, USF has drawn only 6,610 fans into a building that can hold 11,324.
The Bulls (3-3) won their first home game of the season behind more hot shooting from the three-point range, connecting on 7-of-20 attempts.
The team is shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc on the season, 11th in the NCAA.
“I just felt confident going into the game and hopefully I’ll feel like that throughout the whole season,” said guard Jesus Verdejo, who had a team-high 20 points, including four three-point field goals.
After falling behind by 14 early in the game, East Carolina stormed back and regained the lead behind the unexpected hot shooting of guard Sam Hinnant as he scored 19 first-half points.
The junior averaged only 5.8 points per game entering the contest.
Verdejo closed out the half by connecting twice from downtown in 45 seconds, giving USF a 39-36 advantage.
“He made some big, key shots for us throughout the game, at the end of the half and as well as that back-to-back stretch somewhere in the later part of the second half, and just gave us momentum going into the locker room because we kind of let the lead slip away,” Heath said.
“They were making a push, and to just go into the locker room with a big shot and momentum, I thought, was psychologically good for us.”
USF scored 42 points in the second half and were able to contain Hinnant, who only scored six points after the half to finish with a career-high 25.
Midway through the second half the Bulls built a double-digit advantage that the Pirates would only briefly slice into.
All five starters scored in double figures and accounted for all but six points in the contest.
Orane Chin scored a season-high 17 for USF, while Kentrell Gransberry finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Chris Howard added 12 and Dominique Jones had 11.
For the second consecutive game, USF didn’t get into foul trouble and the Pirates attempted only 14 free throws.
“The one thing that is happening is teams aren’t getting to the free-throw line a whole lot against us,” Heath said. “East Carolina kept driving to the basket but didn’t get to the foul line, and I think that’s a real healthy thing for us.”
The Bulls held Florida State to five free-throw attempts during their upset last week.
USF held the Pirates below 40 percent shooting during the game’s final 20 minutes as they primarily played a zone defense, a move Heath implemented against Florida Atlantic.
After falling to Cleveland State, Buffalo and Rhode Island, USF changed from a man-to-man scheme to a zone defense, and the Bulls haven’t lost since.
“I’ve kind of kicked myself,” Heath said. “We should have (switched to a zone) earlier in the first couple games; I think we’d have (had) some different outcomes.”