USF men’s basketball is off to its best start in almost 30 years.
The Bulls started their season 11-2 for the first time since the 1990-91 thanks to USF’s first seven-game winning streak in 11 years, which started with a 75-71 victory on Nov. 28 against Stetson.
The Bulls’ streak came to an end Saturday in dramatic fashion after losing to Tulsa 78-75 on a last-second buzzer-beating three-pointer. USF (11-3, 1-1) battled back from nine points down with 1:12 remaining to eventually tie the game on a three-pointer by Collins with five seconds left before Tulsa’s Curran Scott connected as the buzzer sounded.
“We did some things out of character a little bit for us, but the one thing that was in character was we just kept fighting,” coach Brian Gregory said in a statement after the game. “We just kind of hung in there and kept fighting, and did some really good things at the end, really good execution.”
Still, the seven-game win streak gave USF one of it’s best starts in program history to close out its non-conference schedule.
“I thought we had a chance to have a really good non-conference campaign,” Gregory said. “I knew that the teams we were going to play — there were 50/50 games, so to speak. But if we did what we were supposed to do, we were going to put ourselves in a position to win.
“The two games we lost were close games, but we won three or four close games as well.”
Freshman Alexis Yetna was a force during non-conference play, finishing with six double-doubles, at the time good for 19th most in the NCAA. Yetna also led the AAC in rebounds per game during non-conference play with 10.9.
“We’re excited,” Yetna said. “We’re excited to see how good we can be and excited for the future, obviously. But we know that it’s starting now, so we’ve just got to work right now for the future and just not be excited for what’s coming after.”
After defeating Colgate on Nov. 30, USF took its break for finals week. Once that eight-day gap concluded, USF had to wait a little longer to play basketball again.
The Bulls had their first true road game of the season, which would have been against Charlotte on Dec. 9, canceled due to a winter storm in North Carolina. Attempts are being made to reschedule the game, but nothing has been announced yet, according to USF’s sports information department.
When USF was able to play its first true road game, the Bulls were victorious in Miami against Florida International 82-73 on Dec. 18. Junior Laquincy Rideau led all scorers with 28 points. The two teams combined for a total of 57 turnovers, with 33 of the turnovers allowed by USF.
The Bulls’ other victories in December came in home games against Appalachian State on Dec. 15, Alcorn State on Dec. 21 and Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 29.
USF kept its streak alive into the new year and into AAC play when it defeated UConn 76-68 on Jan. 2 at the Yuengling Center thanks to a 51-point second half. Rideau led the way with 25 points and eight rebounds. USF trailed the Huskies by as many as 13 points in the first half, but exploded in the second half, outscoring UConn by 16 points during the game’s final 20 minutes.
The win against UConn, which was USF’s 11th win of the season, marked the most total victories in a season since 2013-14, the last season under former coach Stan Heath. The win in its AAC opener was USF’s first victory in a conference opener in exactly 11 years, the last coming on Jan. 2, 2008, against Rutgers at what was then the Sun Dome.
Gregory thinks the victory over UConn, USF’s third all-time and first since the formation of the AAC in 2013, made a statement.
“We didn’t have to win — even though, obviously, I feel a lot better that we did — to play that hard, with that kind of grit and toughness, I think will resonate with our fans,” Gregory said.
Sophomore David Collins echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We’re not here to be last anymore,” Collins said.
The Bulls return to the Yuengling Center on Wednesday against Tulane. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.