TAMPA - Well, USF men’s basketball didn’t have to make a 25-point comeback this time. The Bulls led nearly wire-to-wire in a 66-57 victory over Western Athletic Conference foe Utah Valley in the quarterfinals of the Roman College Basketball Invitational on Monday night at the Yuengling Center.
The Bulls and Wolverines traded buckets over the first couple of minutes with Alexis Yetna dominating inside with eight of USF’s first ten points. The AAC Freshman of the Year had 15 in the first half alone en route to his second double-double of the tournament and 13th on the season.
Utah Valley took a 13-12 lead when Ben Nakwaasah knocked down a three-pointer on the left side, but USF quickly went on a 7-0 run 20 seconds later to create some separation.
Unlike the first game of the CBI versus Stony Brook when USF had to chase the game, the Bulls got to control the game and in turn, got to suffocate Utah Valley at the perimeter, where the Wolverines usually made their money. Isaiah White and Jake Toolson both shot over 39 percent from behind the arc coming into Monday - the duo shot just 2-for-6 combined in the quarterfinals.
Toolson - the 2018-19 WAC Player of the Year - was limited to seven points and committed six turnovers on the evening, largely in part by lockdown defense from TJ Lang and Justin Brown.
Utah Valley used a 7-0 run in the second half to take a 39-37 lead, which was answered by a three ball from Lang, 19 seconds later. Laquincy Rideau kept the momentum rolling as USF hit five consecutive threes, including two from David Collins and one from Antun Maricevic to spark a 15-2 run over 6:43 to give the Bulls their largest lead of the night.
The response from the Bulls was organic and something that Brian Gregory always preaches to his players - simply to respond at the right times.
“You can’t control all the events, but you can control your response, which usually determines the outcome,” Gregory said.
USF’s response in this case was to stretch its lead to 18 at one point in the second half before UVU cut it back to nine to end the game.
It was a game that only had 13 combined free throws - USF shot and made all six of its.
You have to go back to Feb. 7 at SMU to find a game where Gregory’s team shot fewer than ten free throws when they shot five in the one-point win over the Mustangs.
“One of the things [Athletic Director Michael Kelly] asked in this game was that we don’t shoot a lot of free throws so we get done in less than two hours, so mission accomplished there,” Gregory joked.
The Bulls shot 10-of-25 (40%) from beyond the arc with seven of the makes coming in the second half.
“The threes that we took were good because they came within the offense,” Gregory said. “Guys moved and shared the ball and made the extra pass. Even the shots we missed, I thought every one of them was a good shot.”
USF will face Loyola Marymount Thursday at 7 p.m. inside the Yuengling Center.
- UVU out-rebounded USF 36-35 on Monday night. Coming into the contest, the Wolverines were 19-0 in games where they beat their opponent on the boards. USF provided the only blemish to that record.
- David Collins’ 17 points on Monday gave him 15 or more points for the sixth consecutive game - he’s scored in double digits in 13 consecutive games. Collins also had five steals to move into second place on USF’s single-season steals leaderboard - only behind backcourt mate Laquincy Rideau.
- USF allowed just one of the Wolverines’ starting five to score in double digits (Nakwaasah had 12) - that was the first time the Bulls have allowed just one member in the starting lineup to eclipse double-digits since Feb. 23 at Houston.
- Yetna’s 18 came very efficiently, collecting it on 7-of-9 field goal shooting. The Frenchman was 2-of-2 from downtown.
- USF’s 25 field goals came on 17 assists.
- USF forced UVU into 20 turnovers and compiled 15 steals in the win.