LAKELAND — Any chance that USF might take Division II Florida Southern lightly Wednesday night ended when Stan Heath saw that the Moccasins had led Miami by 10 with 10 minutes to play in an exhibition last week.
"It red-flagged me to death," said coach Stan Heath, whose team cruised to a 73-43 win that matched his best start at USF at 3-0. "I saw that score, and I know (Miami coach) Jim Larranaga well. He told me, 'We were fortunate to win the game.' … It not only got my attention, but my coaching staff and players' attention. Everybody's antennas went up. … Our guys really came to play. We needed to."
The Bulls jumped out to a 14-4 lead and played stifling defense in the first half, holding Florida Southern (0-1) to 18 percent shooting from the field. The Mocs finished 1-of-20 from 3-point range, and the Bulls finished with 12 blocks, matching the third most in school history, including a career-best six from senior forward Augustus Gilchrist.
"That's one of our better defensive efforts," said Gilchrist, who led the team with 15 points and added nine rebounds.
Center Ron Anderson had seven points and 11 rebounds, leading a 53-35 advantage on the boards. Backup point guard Blake Nash had 13 points and forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick 12, including two 3-pointers. Sophomore forward Victor Rudd, who went for 30 points Monday in a win against Marist, had a quiet eight points, going 3-for-11 from the field.
And with two more games in the next four days, Heath didn't have to play his regulars as much, with eight players getting at least 20 minutes but none more than 30.
The Bulls finished a wild run of three home games at three venues in five days. Attendance in the Lakeland Center was announced as 1,987, though the actual crowd was closer to half that. The Bulls now head to Connecticut this weekend for tournament games against Old Dominion and, potentially for the first time, No. 2 Kentucky on Sunday.
"We did a lot of good things. We're still not there yet," Heath said. "We've got a lot of work to do, and obviously, our schedule gets different. It gets very, very challenging."