New-look Bulls dominate in exhibition

Junior center Russel Tchewa, one of the four returning players from last season, scored nine points and secured five rebounds in USF’s exhibition win over Voorhees College on Monday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The new-look USF men’s basketball team debuted an overhauled roster as it set the 2021-22 season in motion with a 92-42 exhibition win over Voorhees College on Monday night.

“It was great [to get the season going],” coach Brian Gregory said. “It’s been a long [offseason]. I thought our guys responded extremely well.”

With just four players returning to this year’s team, Gregory experimented with various lineups in an attempt to establish the team’s rotation. Nine Bulls played over 15 minutes, with the starters on the court for an average of just 19 minutes. 

“It’s gonna be a challenge for our guys to understand that our strength is going to be in our numbers,” Gregory said. “Some nights it’s going to be 10 minutes, some nights it could be 23. We’ve got to be OK with that.”

There is still much to learn about this team given the scale of turnover from last season’s team. Gregory said he was pleased with the overall performance of the new faces on both ends of the court.

“I think the most impressive thing for the newcomers was the intensity that they tried to defend with,” Gregory said. “The unselfishness and execution on the offensive end as well, I thought was impressive.”

The Bulls went into the break with a 43-29 lead but turned up their intensity after the intermission. They outscored Voorhees 49-13 in the second half and led by as many as 52 points, at one point going on a 31-2 run over 11 minutes.

Sophomore forward Jalyn McCreary, who transferred from South Carolina, scored a team-high 17.

“It felt really good [to make my debut],” McCreary said. “As soon as I transferred, I went back home and put in a whole bunch of work just to better my game. It was exciting to be out there.”

McCreary did most of his damage from midrange, going 8-of-13 from the field and taking just one three-point shot.

“If you get him the ball in that 15-16-foot range, he’s wired to score,” Gregory said.

Senior guard Javon Greene, a fifth-year transfer from George Mason, scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

“[He is] as good of a defensive rebounding guard as I’ve coached,” Gregory said. “In his four-year career at George Mason I think he had over 500 rebounds, so he’s done it before.”

The Bulls’ defense grew in strength as the game progressed. They held the Tigers to 30% shooting on the night and forced 22 turnovers, converting them into 23 points.

“Sometimes when the score gets out of hand, you start losing some of your principles defensively,” Gregory said. “We did a great job of staying true to what we have been working on and what we need to continue to get better at.”

USF crashed the offensive glass throughout the game, pulling down 16 total offensive rebounds, led by sophomore forward and New Mexico transfer Bayron Matos’ seven boards.

“Bayron did his thing out there tonight, I won’t lie,” McCreary said. “He’s a team player, he does what he has to do to help the team.”

A pair of notable absences from Monday’s win were sophomore guard Caleb Murphy and junior guard Jamir Chaplin, two of the four returning players this season. Both players are expected to be ready for the season opener Nov. 9.

“To have that defensive effort, to have that offensive execution and efficiency without probably your two starting guards is pretty encouraging at this point,” Gregory said.

“[Murphy and Chaplin] both could have played tonight, but they’ve been out of practice with [minor injuries]. We felt it was in our best interest to [rest them] another day or two.”

As the new season takes shape, Gregory and his players were appreciative of the fan presence and game atmosphere.

“Just moving forward [into this season] with some normalcy, seeing the cheerleaders, the [in-person attendance], the energy that our guys played with, there was just a different vibe to it,” he said.

The Bulls will officially start the 2021-22 season next Tuesday when they host Bethune-Cookman. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN+ and streamed on iHeart Bulls Radio Unlimited.