The game was tied for 17 seconds, then Nehemias Morillo, playing in Corey Allen Jr.'s place, scored USF's first basket of the night. From then on, the Bulls dominated UCF in every aspect of the game. After Morillo racked up six points in the first five minutes, Troy Holston Jr. (who double-doubled) knocked down two three-pointers a minute apart, pushing USF's lead to 15. Even Anthony Collins, who normally takes about six shots per game, got in on the scoring, shooting five of five in the first half.
Between the Bulls' defense and some bad luck, UCF couldn't get their shots to fall. It took the Knights more than thirteen minutes to get double digits on the scoreboard. Free throws were the only thing working for them, accounting for ten of their 23 first half points. USF took a 20 point lead into half time.
Having prepared myself mentally to watch the men's basketball season lie dying on the Sun Dome floor, I was satisfied to have seen the team come together offensively in the first half, and I was not expecting to see them keep it up for the rest of the game. But Bo Zeigler started the second half with a dunk, two layups and three free throws, giving the Bulls a 25-point lead. Zeigler had shot well in the first half, making three baskets, but had been letting the guards take the offensive reins. In the second half, the ball was fed in to Zeigler much more and he came alive. Zeigler finished the game with a double-double: 20 points and 10 rebounds.
USF's offensive production eased up a bit in the second half, but the Knights were never in danger of getting back into the game. They continued to shoot poorly and turn the ball over. After making only six shots in the first, they made only eight in the second half. They kept trying (20 times to be exact) from three-point range, but made only two from beyond the arc all night. The Bulls played energetically for 40 minutes, while UCF seemed to play listlessly, never recovering after having let the game get away early.
After being forced to start inexperienced players, then losing Chris Perry midway through the season, going on an eleven game losing streak, and most recently losing Corey Allen Jr., I have no idea where USF's motivation is coming from. Whatever hopes they had of making the NIT are long gone; the best they can do this year is play as a tenth instead of an eleventh seed in the conference tournament. But they keep on playing hard. We all knew that they had games like this in them somewhere, it was just unexpected to see one before next fall.
As punishing as this year has been, it feels like USF deserved a blowout win like this. "It was extremely gratifying because of the way they played," said Head Coach Orlando Antigua thoughtfully after the game. "They can do it," he later added. "They just need to focus in and continue to concentrate and be there for each other."
"We did better on offense today because of our defense," said Anthony Collins. "We were able to get into transition and just get easier shots." And that is exactly the style of play that Antigua has been trying to orchestrate this whole season. It takes a long time for a coach to install changes to a team, and it takes a long time for novice players to get enough skill and discipline to consistently do what they are coached to do. At the end of this long and difficult season, it is great to see things starting to pay off.