USF men’s basketball will be playing April basketball for the first time in program history after they knocked off Loyola Marymount 56-47 to head to the finals of the Roman College Basketball Invitational.
These teams came into this game boasting two of the top defenses in their respective conferences. The Lions came into the game ranking 14th in scoring defense at Division I at 62.7 ppg, and USF ranked 18th in steals per game with 8.3.
“It was a defensive battle, but our defense led to some really good offense... In the first half, their physicality had us on our heels. Then we settled in and in the second half, we got better offensively,” head coach Brian Gregory said.
The first half highlighted the defenses, with neither team getting good looks offensively. LMU shot 35%, but with USF right behind them at 33%, the two teams entered the break tied at 22.
Junior point guard Laquincy Rideau scored nine second-half points and added four assists, four rebounds and three steals to help pace the Bulls offensively. Pretty nice way to spend your birthday.
The second half started with a 17-4 run by USF, aided by a T.J. Lang four-point play and three more free throws after he was fouled on another three. Rideau followed it up with a fast-break layup and before LMU could realize what was happening, they were down by 13.
“TJ has been good defensively and made some critical threes at big times,” Gregory said.
Lang, the only senior in this year’s rotation, had a tall task defensively, having to guard the Lions’ leading scorer James Batemon, who came into the game averaging 16.6 points per game. The Bulls’ defense was able to keep Batemon off the score sheet in the second half after he led LMU with nine first-half points.
Alexis Yetna recorded his third straight double-double, and 14th overall on the season. The redshirt freshmen collected 11 points and 11 rebounds to put another notch on his impressive freshmen season.
Sophomore guard David Collins battled foul trouble in the second half, but still managed to score nine of his 11 points in the second half. Freshman Michael Durr continued his upward trend offensively and score six points grabbed nine rebounds.
“I tell our guys, ‘Don’t spend your time, invest your time,’” Gregory said. “We didn’t spend this money [$80k to host CBI], we invested this money to play these (three) home games... You are investing in 13 scholarship guys that decided to come here to play when there was no reason to do that and to build something special here and take the first step.”
USF will be playing for a postseason championship for the first time since the 1990 Sun Belt championship game, when Bobby Paschal and Radenko Dobras led the Bulls to an 81-74 victory over UNC-Charlotte to give USF their first NCAA Tournament bid. Their opponent in the CBI final is a familiar face in the DePaul Blue Demons. USF and DePaul have played 27 times, most of them battles in the basement of Conference USA and Big East from 1995 to 2013. The Blue Demons hold the edge in the series 15-12, but USF won the most recent meeting in 2013 by an 83-73 score.
The first game of the best-of-three series will be played in Tampa at the Yuengling Center on Monday, April 1. Game 2 and Game 3 (if necessary) will be played at DePaul on April 3 and 5. All games will tip off at 7:00 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.