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Defense key to third win of ’08

The defensive improvement under second-year coach Stan Heath continues.

For the third time this season, the South Florida men’s basketball team held an opponent under 50 points when it beat the Northeastern University Huskies 55-37 on Saturday. The Bulls (3-1) held two opponents to fewer than 50 points last season.

“I thought it was our best performance, maybe even of last year as well, especially from the defensive end,” Heath said. “We really defended well.”

USF held the Huskies (3-3) to .241 shooting from the field (13-of-54), the second-lowest field goal percentage for an opposing team in USF history (.233, FAU 2005).

“I thought that tonight, we ran into a team that was just more physical at every position,” NU coach Bill Coen said. “That physicality had a great toll on our offensive execution, because we couldn’t get the ball into the spots we needed to on the floor.”

Even with the stellar defensive performance, the Bulls’ offensive struggles in the first half were nearly as bad as the Huskies’.

The teams combined to go 12-of-48 from the field, and the score was tied at 11 at about four minutes to halftime.

“I told the guys: ‘There’s like three minutes left in the half, and we have 11 points,’ so everybody was like ‘We’ve got to get it going,'” sophomore guard Dominique Jones said. “We’ve got to finish strong. Coach is always telling us to finish the half strong, so we were just looking for it. We locked down on defense and finished the half strong.”

The Bulls ended the first half on an 11-0 run, giving them a lead they didn’t relinquish.

Jones finished with a game-high 20 points, six rebounds and four assists.

It was the second 20-point game for Jones this season.

“There’s a lot of eyes on me,” Jones said. “I know teams aren’t going to just let me go out there and drop 30 or 35 points. I have to look for ways to turn them giving me attention into an advantage by getting my teammates involved.”

One player who has been getting involved is senior forward Aris Williams. After being limited by knee injuries for the past two seasons, he has become a scoring option for the Bulls.

Williams had his second straight game with double figures in scoring (11) and played 35 minutes.

“I don’t know what got into him,” Heath said. “I don’t know where he came from. I’m proud of Aris. He went from a guy that you’re trying to figure out, ‘How are you going to get him in? Is he ever going to play?’ to, all of a sudden, a guy that’s really contributing at a high level. You can see that his confidence is growing.”

Williams said he’s just happy to be healthy.

“It feels good,” he said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to get out on the court and play with these guys, and I’m just trying to take full advantage of my opportunity.”