Nine minutes into USF’s season opener Saturday against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, freshman forward Chris Perry stole the ball from former Bartow High standout Jeremiah Samarrippas and charged down the court for an uncontested layup to get the Bulls within one point of the lead.
As the 6-foot-8, 266-pound freshman ran down the court to the hoop, the crowd of 4,103 at the Sun Dome roared for Perry.
The Bulls struggled to score in the first half, making only three of their first 12 shots and falling behind the Golden Eagles, 11-8, at the 10-minute mark. Perry’s layup brought the Bulls to 10 points and sparked a 9-0 run, which gave the team a lead it would not relinquish.
USF (1-0) topped Tennessee Tech (0-1) by a final score of 72-62.
The Bulls earned their first victory of the season without junior point guard Anthony Collins, who sat out with a lingering knee injury.
“He has practiced full-go the past few days,” coach Stan Heath said. “He isn’t 100 percent, he’s about 75 to 80 percent.”
But with Collins on the bench, Perry stepped in and gave the Bulls the spark they needed after a dismal first ten minutes. After the game, Perry commented on how it felt to play his first collegiate game.
“It was awesome. I loved it,” he said. “I can’t wait till we get to the games when there’s going to be a whole bunch of people there.”
It was a big game for Perry, not only because it was his first, but also because he faced a former star of the high school he played at.
Samarrippas, who he stole the ball from in the first half, played at Bartow High and led them to a state championship in 2010. Perry was not only debuting his college career in front of Bulls’ fans, but was also showing off his talent in front of Bartow fans as well.
“I was obviously excited because of the whole Bartow thing,” Perry said. “I was nervous before the game.”
Despite the nerves, Perry was instrumental in leading the Bulls
Senior forward Victor Rudd led the team with 23 points, but Perry was the second-leading scorer on the team and helped the Bulls establish an inside presence.
Perry’s stat line of 14 points and seven rebounds on 70 percent shooting was enough for Heath to keep him in the game for 27 minutes, even though he didn’t start. The actual starter at power forward, sophomore Zach LeDay, only played 18 minutes and didn’t score in
“I was really pleased with Chris Perry,” Heath said. “I thought he gave us an inside presence that we need and he played very big for us in the paint with rebounds.”
Going forward, Heath said he may start both of his freshmen big men. John Egbunu got the start at center and Heath envisions a future where Perry will start alongside him, and that future lineup might not be too far away.
“For a period of time, I played both Chris and John together, and I definitely see that as a future
combination,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll start them the next game, but it looks like a strong option for us.”
Heath said Perry doesn’t realize his potential yet.
“He doesn’t know how good he can be,” he said. “And when he figures that out…when that lightbulb really clicks on, he’s an All-Conference player.”