Despite a slow start to the game that saw the Bulls go one for their first 12 from the field, USF (10-21, 3-15) was able to knock off SMU (16-15, 6-12) 65-54 in front of a crowd of 2,593 Sunday at the Sun Dome.
A 14-4 run coming out of halftime gave the Bulls a lead they would never relinquish. Freshman guard David Collins led all scorers with 21 points. Joining Collins in double figures were two other Bulls — junior forward Malik Martin with 15 points and graduate guard Stephan Jiggetts with 14 points.
“A total team victory,” coach Brian Gregory said. “A lot of guys played well. A lot of guys did some things that we need them to do.”
The Bulls were able to outrebound SMU 40-34, which included 24-14 advantage on the glass in the first half. However, 14 of SMU’s rebounds came offensively, leading to 17 second chance points for the Mustangs.
“We didn’t rebound the ball today as well as we did the other night at Memphis,” Gregory said. “We’re going to have to rebound the ball better. We weren’t as physical as we need to be on the glass today.”
The win was the Bulls’ third conference win of the season, tripling their total from the 2016-17 season. It’s the first time USF has had a two-game conference win-streak since February 2016. The victory also gave USF its 10th overall win of the season, the first time the Bulls have achieved double-digit wins since the 2013-14 season.
“We’ve just been staying positive,” graduate guard Terrence Samuel said. “We’ve been coming with the mindset that it’s not over and (Gregory) has been doing a good job telling us he’s going to coach us until the last day. And I feel like each player has stepped it up in practice in terms of focusing and it showed today in the game.”
Sunday’s game was Senior Day for the Bulls, marking the end for several key players’ USF careers, including Samuel and Jiggetts. Gregory offered praise about his outgoing class for laying the foundation as he attempts to rebuild a program that has been tainted by not having a winning season since the 2011-12 season, star-players transferring and an NCAA investigation into academic fraud during the tenure of former head coach Orlando Antigua.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is each and every one of them has had their best statistical year of their career this year,” Gregory said. “Even more important than that is the foundation they’re laying for this program in terms of their character, in terms of their self-development, their maturity. You can’t build this thing on sand. It’s got to be on a rock and those guys have been a rock for us.”
SMU was led offensively by two scorers in double figures. Freshman forward Ethan Chargois scored 15 points and sophomore guard Jimmy Whitt scored 14 points in defeat for the Mustangs. Junior guard Jahmal McMurray, who transferred from USF in December 2016, was held to only seven points in his return to the Sun Dome.
Up next for the Bulls is the American Athletic Conference tournament at Amway Center in Orlando. USF enters the tournament as the No. 12 seed and will take on No. 5 Memphis in the opening round Thursday afternoon at 2. It will mark the second meeting between the Bulls and Tigers in a week, as the two teams met in Memphis on Thursday, with USF winning its second conference game of the season, 75-51.