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Bulls stay grounded with recent success

USF coach Stan Heath said road losses to Marquette and Notre Dame recently gave his team a new outlook on the season.

The Bulls realized that just being in contention doesn’t mean the basketball program has “arrived.”

The Bulls’ 65-57 win Tuesday night over Cincinnati hasn’t changed that, Heath said, as his team tries to get back to .500 in the conference and improve its chances of getting an NCAA tournament bid when it hosts St. John’s on Saturday at noon.

“I felt our team stopped talking. I thought they were more humble and realized that if we’re going to win, it’s going to be a hungry, humble approach,” Heath said of the losses the Bulls suffered after a winning streak that began in late January. “I thought we got back to that instead of feeling like we’ve arrived. We haven’t.”

The Bulls’ resume got a big boost with a much-needed win over fellow bubble foe Cincinnati, which beat USF 78-70 earlier in the season. The Bulls are now 9-3 at home, and have wins over ranked opponents Pittsburgh and Georgetown.

“Getting the Georgetown game was a very important game when it comes to resume time, tournament time, things like that,” said junior guard Dominique Jones, who scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half Tuesday. “I think Marquette, Notre Dame would have been good as well, but those are two hard places to win at. They had like 15 (to) 16,000 (people) in there. We just have to take care of business at home.”

St. John’s (14-10, 4-8) has mome tum as well, coming off two wins against Louisville and Notre Dame.

USF (16-9, 6-7) has won four straight at home, and a season-high attendance of 6,607 Tuesday gave the Bulls a sense of urgency, said senior guard Mike Mercer, who scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

“When you’re at home, you’ve got to win,” he said. “We felt like it was very important. We came out with that mindset that
we had to win. Our backs were against the wall, and it really helped us play hard.”

Mercer and guard Anthony Crater combined to go 9-of-14 from the field, a welcome sight for Heath.

“That’s huge. When those guys are making shots, it’s a big lift,” Heath said. “They’re capable. We’ve been talking to them about just stepping inside that 3-point line.”

USF has seemingly one tough trip left at No. 3 Villanova next week. The Bulls, whose 16 wins this season are the most since 2002 when they reached the NIT, have home games against Providence and Connecticut after Saturday’s game.

Though the Bulls may not have “arrived” just yet, Jones said the team gets an added bonus with each win.

“We’re walking around with high spirits now,” Jones said. “We don’t like walking around knowing we lost the last game.”