After losing seven of their eight games over the break, the Bulls brought in the new year on Saturday with a 58-50 win over East Carolina in their second conference game of the season.
Freshman forward Ruben Guerrero shot 6-of-7 from the floor and redshirt freshman forward Bo Zeigler sparked the Bulls’ energy, bringing down a career-high eight rebounds in the win.
“My redshirt helped me with getting stronger and experience,” Zeigler said. “Just watching how the game goes. I just try to bring the energy.”
The lead changed five times before USF pulled ahead for good with 6:15 left in the game. A 9-0 run extended the Bulls’ lead to 54-44 and the Pirates were unable to recover.
Zeigler highlighted the run with seven points and a dunk fed by junior guard Anthony Collins, who leads the AAC in assists.
“(Zeigler) was huge — especially down the stretch,” coach Orlando Antigua said. “When you have a player like Bo and a guy like Dinero (Mercurius), who can play multiple positions and who are physical enough to play bigger than what they are, you can try to utilize that for some schemes down the stretch.”
The Bulls struggled to find their outside shooting against the Pirates’ zone defense for much of the game, shooting 3-of-19 from beyond the arc.
“(ECU’s) zone was highly active, and we kept trying to get that ball behind the zone,” Antigua said. “We did a good job of getting on the glass, using our length to capitalize on some offensive rebounding opportunities.”
The Bulls finished with 14 offensive rebounds — 37 total.
“Down the stretch, our defense is going to help us limit the amount of shots they get,” Zeigler said. “We just tried to make it a little more uncomfortable for them to get in their sweet spots, trying to nod them in the wing and then box out and get rebounds and finish the possession.”
USF held ECU (7-8, 0-2) to 35 percent shooting and a season-low 50 points. The Bulls also outscored the Pirates 32-18 in the paint.
Despite entering winter break with a 5-3 record, the Bulls have gone 2-5 since.
The worst loss for USF came on New Year’s Eve when SMU matched up against the Bulls in the Sun Dome. USF was defeated 83-49 in front of a national audience on ESPN2.
In each of the Bulls’ seven games over winter break, either senior guard Corey Allen Jr. or sophomore forward Chris Perry led the team in scoring.
Anthony Collins moved to fourth in all-time USF assists with 492, passing Chris Howard. Chucky Atkins is third with 519.
The Bulls’ conference play continues in the Sun Dome against defending national champion UConn on Tuesday at 7 p.m.