It may not have been the picturesque, banner-raising night for the team coming off its first championship in almost 30 years.
Actually, it was downright ugly at times.
Nevertheless, USF men’s basketball (1-0) was victorious — and in relatively laughable fashion — in its first game since winning the College Basketball Invitational in April, as the Bulls knocked off Arkansas-Pine Bluff 70-41 on Tuesday night at the Yuengling Center.
While the game ended in a nearly-30 point rout, it was anything but that at the half.
USF took a 10-point lead into the break, then turned up the defensive pressure the final 20 minutes.
“We went into the locker room at halftime, and the coaches are saying, ‘We’ve just got to pick it up, the game is kind of close,'” senior guard Laquincy Rideau said. “We just took that mindset and just came out and stopped them.”
The halftime talk worked well, as USF forced 12 turnovers and held the Golden Lions to just four made field goals afterward.
“Obviously, holding that team to 28 percent from the field and forcing 21 turnovers [all night] and only giving up five offensive rebounds is part of our formula,” coach Brian Gregory said.
The reason the game was so close at the break was USF’s poor offensive start. The Bulls missed their first six shots from the field before Rideau made a 3-pointer more than five minutes in.
Part of the struggle shooting was UAPB’s zone defense, according to Gregory.
Though part of it was also just not taking advantage of good looks.
“It’s difficult — you play the first game and you face 40 minutes of zone,” Gregory said. “We don’t play a lot of zone. … But I thought we got a lot of good shots around the basket — we didn’t finish around the basket, which is something that we’ve got to do a better job of.”
Ultimately, the Bulls finished the game at 37 percent with three scorers in double figures — junior guard David Collins (18 points), junior guard Justin Brown (12 points) and Rideau (10 points).
Rideau also collected 10 rebounds, earning his first double-double of the season on Opening Night.
Something of a kryptonite for the Bulls last season — free-throw shooting — was so-so Tuesday. USF was 13-of-18 from the free-throw line in the first half — with its first six points coming from the free-throw line — but 10-of-17 in the second.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” Gregory said. “We get to the line 35 times, we’ve got to take advantage of it. … That’s one of the areas we need to improve in because we turn a positive of us getting fouled a lot and the aggressiveness and the physicality that we play with, we get to the line a lot. We need to turn that into an advantage and make more free throws.”
A big test now awaits the Bulls at the Yuengling Center on Sunday with Boston College coming to town for a noon tipoff, though Gregory is looking forward to it.
“A great, great test for us, and a great evaluation tool to see where we’re at,” Gregory said. “We got thrown a curveball a little bit, but now we need to respond to it.”