In the final War on I-4 men’s basketball game, 5,715 fans filled the Yuengling Center on Saturday as USF beat UCF 85-72.
The Bulls (9-11, 2-5 AAC) have struggled to win, losing five out of their last six games.
However, they were able to maintain their home-court advantage against the Knights (13-6, 4-3 AAC) behind a 33-point performance from senior guard Tyler Harris, marking a new career high for him.
Harris also contributed seven rebounds and six assists in the contest. This is Harris’ second 30-point game of the season after scoring 32 points on Jan. 11 against Houston. Surpassing the scoring milestone in this game meant more for Harris because it resulted in a win this time around.
“To get 30 and get the win is always good. Getting 30 in a loss does not feel good for me because I’m a winner. I want to win and I do not want moral victories,” Harris said. “There are no good games when you lose.’
Before Saturday’s game, the Bulls made an average of 6.9 three-pointers per game this season. They were able to eclipse their season average before the first half ended by knocking down eight threes.
Despite USF’s strong shooting early in the match, UCF made runs of its own to keep the win within reach. However, a four-point play from Harris kept the Bulls afloat and held their lead at 21-16.
The game slowed down for USF in the second half, where they went nearly four minutes without scoring. The momentum shifted in favor of the Bulls when a chase-down block by junior center Russel Tchewa set up a transition basket for junior guard Jamir Chaplin to extend their lead 48-43.
The SoFlo Rodeo’s passionate cheers became deafening as USF piled on the points late in the final half. The Bulls outscored the Knights 37-29 and increased the lead to as much as 13 to secure the victory.
As the game progressed, the Bulls’ performance on the glass propelled them forward. UCF averaged 13 offensive rebounds per game before Saturday’s game and USF held them back at nine. Coach Brian Gregory emphasized the team effort it took to hold their opponent in that category.
“They are fit and physical…It’s not just the inside guys, it’s also their guards too. You have to be disciplined off the ball,” Gregory said. “I thought we did a good job of limiting their rebounding.”
South Florida grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and converted those opportunities into 22-second chance points.
USF has struggled to defend its home court, winning just five of 12 games played in the Yuengling Center this year. But there’s hope that this intense rivalry matchup win may push the Bulls in the right direction going forward. As they begin their road trip, Gregory wants his team to capitalize on the momentum this win could give them.
“We’ve played well on the road and we haven’t played quite as well as at home but today, we did. So we need to build on that,” Gregory said. “In this league, it’s one game [at a time], and we got one…but we got some things we can build on.”
Men’s basketball heads to Philadelphia to take on Temple on Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Bulls Unlimited.