Fueled by an 18-point performance from Laquincy Rideau and an 18-rebound effort by Alexis Yetna, the South Florida Bulls men’s basketball team knocked off Appalachian State 76-69 at the Yuengling Center on Saturday to improve to 7-2 for the first time since 2013.
“Very pleased with how we came out after the long layoff,” head coach Brian Gregory said. “We got good basketball from a lot of different guys. We said we were going to need a total team effort.”
Following a back-and-forth first few minutes, the Bulls exploded for a 14-0 run capped off with a four-point play by redshirt senior T.J. Lang to build up a 38-29 halftime lead.
Lang added seven points and was 2-for-4 from behind the arc.
The Mountaineers (4-6) didn’t fold however, outscoring the Bulls 11-2 to open the second half and tie the game 40-40.
“Coach told us we have to respond,” Yetna said. “We came out flat but we knew we were at home and had to come together.”
USF would respond, scoring the next six points out of the timeout including an impressive alley-oop slam dunk by Yetna on the feed from Rideau.
Along with his 18 points, Rideau added five rebounds, three steals and three assists.
“I thought Rideau was tremendous the entire game to do what he did offensively with the challenge that he has every possession on defense,” Gregory said.
Freshman Xavier Castandea provided a big spark off the bench, nailing a jumper after a Rideau three-ball to make it 51-42.
Castaneda finished with a career-high 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
After getting blown out in Boone, NC last season, the Bulls held the Mountaineers to just 39% (22-for-56) shooting from the floor and 22% (5-for-22) from three-point range.
“We did a good job in the first half guarding the three-point line. We played very well on the perimeter and inside we got rebounds, so we avoided second-chance points on their end,” Yetna added. “That was a good team defensive job tonight.”
After finishing a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe in the first half, the Bulls missed six consecutive free throws down the stretch and had their lead trimmed down to 69-66 with 1:39 remaining.
Castandea ended the brutal streak at the line, draining two crucial free throws with just over a minute to play to secure the victory.
“The second half he’ll get highlighted because he made some shots, but I thought he was just as good in the first half, running the team and defensively,” Gregory said of Castaneda.
The Bulls will visit FIU on Tuesday night for their first true road test of the season at 7 p.m.