South Florida overpowers East Carolina in dominant victory

Junior forward Jamir Chaplin scored a season high of 17 points in Wednesday’s win over East Carolina. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Despite nearly giving up a double-digit lead, a strong first half performance carried USF to a 71-63 victory over ECU Wednesday night.

The win marks the Bulls’ (10-13, 3-7 AAC) second season victory over the Pirates (11-12, 2-8 AAC). USF also snapped a two-game conference losing streak after 79-76 and 82-80 heartbreaks against Temple on Jan. 25 and SMU on Sunday.

Although having a slow second period, South Florida’s high energy from fifth-year point guard Tyler Harris, junior guard Jamir Chaplin and junior center Russell Tchewa put USF in a position to pull off the win.

Harris continued his hot scoring streak, putting up 21 points on six of 13 shooting, including five threes. Chaplin put up 17 points on an impressive seven of 10 from the floor – his season high in points. Tchewa scored his fifth double-double of the season, racking up 10 points and 11 rebounds.

USF set the tone in the first half of play. Harris scored 16 of his 21 points in the first twenty minutes of action, leading USF in an excellent shooting half. The Bulls shot 55% from the floor in the first half, including shooting eight of 13 from the three. They closed the first half on a 13-0 run, putting South Florida up by 14 at the half.

The Bulls saw their precedence diminish as a 23-point advantage began to lessen in the second half. East Carolina narrowed the gap to seven late in the second half, but the deficit was too big to overcome.

The Bulls posted one of their top shooting performances of the season. Coach Brian Gregory praised his team’s offensive performance in the first half.

“Offensively, moving the ball, we were really crisp,” Gregory said.

Even though the Bulls were victorious, their lack of consistency and focus remains an issue. What was supposed to be a blow out game for USF quickly turned into a race to get back on track.

Gregory noted that the team looked sloppier in the second half when their lead diminished and the Pirates surpassed the Bulls 33-27, even though USF reclaimed the match towards the end.

“We lost a bit of our focus, we got pretty casual offensively and defensively,” Gregory said.

After overcoming East Carolina, South Florida finally etched its 10th victory this season, which is its first time winning 10 matches since its 2019 campaign.

The previous two years were marred by cancellations and postponed games – this will be the first full season played since COVID-19 cut the 2020 season short.

South Florida will now face a tough Memphis squad next week, who has taken down its last five opponents and sits at No. 3 in the AAC. Within the Tigers (17-5, 7-2 AAC), squad star guard Kendric Davis leads the conference with an average of 21.5 points per game, making him a player the Bulls will need to capitalize on.

“We got to have a couple of good days at practice… they’re a very talented team,” Gregory said.

USF will face Memphis on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Yuengling Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and BullsUnlimited.