In a united effort, the Bulls maintained control of the ball and the lead for the entire second half of Thursday night’s 71-60 home win over DePaul.
After the Blue Demons (6-14, 0-8) cut the lead to five with six minutes to play, USF (8-14, 2-7) scored 10 unanswered points to thwart any potential DePaul rally. The run was highlighted by exciting plays from sophomore Jawanza Poland, who took the ball the length of the court off a defensive rebound and delivered a powerful tomahawk dunk right in front of an ecstatic Bulls’ bench. He then got back-to-back steals, which resulted in two of USF’s seven dunks for the night.
“Poland was a lightning rod out there for us with some of the energetic plays he made,” coach Stan Heath said. “As much as the dunks were really impressive, the passing lane deflections and the defensive intensity were what I liked the most.”
On a night when leading scorer Augustus Gilchrist struggled from the field, the Bulls’ bench stepped up to outscore DePaul’s bench 26-9. What he lacked in shooting, Gilchrist made up for with 10 rebounds and went 5 of 5 from the free-throw line.
Junior point guard Anthony Crater had seven of USF’s 15 assists and was instrumental in breaking down the full court pressure of the Blue Demons.
“One of his best games,” Heath said. “You’re asking a guy to be the key guy in breaking the pressure and then you’re asking him to run your team on offense. That’s what good point guards do.”
The Bulls showed much-needed improvement in mental discipline, making better decisions with extra passes for wide open shots. As a team, the Bulls only committed eight fouls, compared to 19 by the Blue Demons.
“The whole week in practice coach stressed being patient and just taking what they give us,” said junior guard Hugh Robertson, who finished with a team-high 16 points.
In the end, teamwork prevailed with every Bull playing his part. Junior forward Ron Anderson Jr. contributed on defense with three blocks. Sophomore guard Shaun Noriega made the most of his 12 minutes by making both of his 3-pointers and coming up with a block and a steal. Heath gave his whole team credit for navigating through the defensive pressure of DePaul.
The Blue Demons only shot eight free throws compared to USF’s 21. The Bulls succeeded in containing the conference’s third-leading scorer in Big East play, freshman forward Cleveland Melvin, who finished with 17 points.
USF will look to pick up back-to-back wins for the first time since Dec. 1 when they face Providence on the road Wednesday night. The Bulls beat the Friars 79-72 in the Sun Dome on Jan. 16.