USF men’s basketball narrowly avoided defeat Monday night at the Sun Dome, as the Bulls won 71-69 after they ended the first half against Kennesaw State with the largest halftime lead in coach Orlando Antigua’s two-plus seasons.
Despite 2015-16 leading scorer Jahmal McMurray still out due to a violation of team rules and forward Bo Ziegler out sick, USF (3-2) led the Owls (2-5) 48-27 at the break behind 15 points from freshman forward Tulio Da Silva and guard Troy Holston Jr. shooting 4-for-4 on 3-pointers.
But as quickly as they built their 21-point lead, they would just as soon watch it vanish within the first few minutes of the second half, as the Bulls played what they described as undisciplined basketball.
“We were told to run some plays and we couldn’t really get into them, so we kind of went off track for a little bit,” said freshman guard Michael Bibby, who started in place of Ziegler.
Antigua attributed almost losing Monday night’s lead to the team’s youth, as five of the eight players who saw action were freshmen or sophomores.
“They’re young, and that’s part of us growing,” Antigua said. “And certainly a lot of teaching that’s going to be utilized in that second half. I’m glad we’re able to use that from a win, but we definitely have to improve on that.”
Holston was one of several Bulls who fell out of focus defensively and allowed Owls guard Nick Masterson to kick-start an 11-1 run to bring them within eight points.
Masterson scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the second half on 6-for-12 shooting including four 3-pointers.
“We came out a little undisciplined,” Holston said. “Personally, I allowed (Masterson) to make shots, get him open. I was jumping off my feet, not staying disciplined.”
Though Da Silva set a career high in points in the first half alone, the freshman would score only two more points as he got into foul trouble and eventually fouled out with just over two minutes left.
Even with the Owls chipping away at the Bulls’ lead, USF looked as though it had the game in hand until guard Jake Bodway missed two free throws up two points with four seconds to go.
Kennesaw State managed to heave a 3-point effort near mid-court, but the ball bounced off the back rim as time expired.
The Bulls will travel to play Troy on Thursday at 8 p.m. in their next non-conference game.