Harris leads Bulls to victory in late-game thriller

Senior guard Tyler Harris scored 27 in the second half along with 14 points straight on 64% shooting. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Despite an inconsistent first half, a momentum shift in the second led to a 71-67 win for USF at home against SMU.

The Bulls’ (13-16, 6-10 AAC) win against the Mustangs (10-19, 5-11 AAC) was due to another lights-out performance by senior guard Tyler Harris, who scored 30 points. Harris shot 55% from three and put up 27 points in the second half alone. He tied the single-season USF record with 88 triples while also tying for the most points scored in a single half by any South Florida player.

USF initially struggled to hold onto the ball and hit its shots, as the team shot only 22% from the three. They frequently turned the ball over and put up rushed or late shots. The Bulls ended their first half losing the ball eight times while the Mustangs scored nine points off of these turnovers.

Late in the first half, South Florida managed to correct itself by going on an 8-0 run capped off by a huge dunk from junior guard Jamir Chaplin. The Bulls were able to cut a 20-point lead down to 12 after an 8-0 run put the score at 38-26.

Coach Brian Gregory said he felt the team started in the right direction defensively but had low drive during the first half. He said he saw flashes of momentum, but didn’t feel the team was in the right mindset coming into the game.

“Our energy was not where it needed to be in the first half. We did some good things and started off pretty good,” he said. “We cut it to six, but we just had three defensive breakdowns in a row after that”.

The momentum from the Bulls changed in the second half, however. Both teams slowed down due to a high amount of foul calls from the referees. USF was able to piece together multiple small runs, allowing it to slowly cut down SMU’s lead. After some key steals and scores from Harris, the Bulls built momentum and reduced the gap to 48-43 with 12 minutes remaining.

USF’s defensive intensity picked up and the Bulls were able to keep SMU from taking a single shot for five minutes. Men’s basketball used this opportunity to chip away at SMU and eventually take their first lead of the game after a 12-2 run with four minutes left.

Gregory said his team was able to improve defensively in the second half. He said their defensive possessions were the biggest enhancements compared to the first 20 minutes.

“The concepts and game plan was going to be effective if we executed it, and the guys just dug down and really did it,” Gregory said. “In the second half, we had I think two or three defensive breakdowns in its entirety. So again our guys get credit because we can lay it out but they got to go out there and do it, and they did it.”

After scoring a three, the Mustangs were able to retake their lead. However, Tyler Harris responded with his own to put the Bulls back up by two. Some great late-game defense from USF and two missed free throws to tie the game allowed USF to pull out of a tight ending.

Gregory also talked about preparing his players to handle late-game clutch shots. Along with Harris’ huge threes, sophomore forward Sam Hines Jr. and freshman guard Ryan Conwell each had threes to help the Bulls near the end of the game.

“I think [Harris] is really starting to develop kind of this inner fire that he’s got going and he’s just made big shot after big shot for us,” Gregory said.

“And with [Hines Jr.], the plays he makes both offensively and defensively, he’s just got great toughness. You’d like to say you can teach it, but I think you can improve it. Some guys just got it and he’s got it and I’m glad that he does.”

Men’s basketball will face off against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.