TAMPA — When starting point guard Anthony Crater injured his left ankle in practice Monday, Bulls coach Stan Heath decided to turn to sophomore shooting guard Mike Burwell, who had played eight scoreless minutes in the Bulls' first four games.
"Our scouting report listed their top 10, of which Mike Burwell was not there," conceded Liberty coach Dale Layer, an Eckerd College graduate. "He started, and we were unsure what to do with him. Then he commences to knock down 5 of 7 3s. I don't know where he's been. I don't know what shooting drill he's been working on, but all that was very helpful and effective for the Bulls. My question to Stan would be why hasn't he been starting and playing every minute."
Burwell, who had 22 points his entire freshman year, finished with 15 to lead USF (3-2) to a 60-43 win over the Flames, extending a theme of a different Bulls player stepping up each night.
"The whole time I wasn't playing, sitting on the bench watching, Coach kept telling me, 'Just be prepared, keep working hard, you never know what's going to happen, your (name) might get called,' " said Burwell, who scored the game's first points with a 3-pointer.
The Bulls also got 17 rebounds from another spot starter, junior Ron Anderson, who personally outrebounded the Flames 15-12 in the first half. The team's usual starting frontcourt of forward Augustus Gilchrist and center Jarrid Famous, who had combined for 35 points in Sunday's win against Georgia Southern, were held to three and four, respectively.
Heath said Crater would have an MRI exam on his injured ankle and was questionable for games this weekend in South Padre Island, Texas, but Burwell will get another long look.
"It put us in a little bit of a bind, and give Mike Burwell a lot of credit," Heath said. "I thought he really stepped up. … I thought him having more experience, knowing what we do, what I like, keeping things simple would be effective for us. He did more than that. Fifteen points, 5-of-7 shooting, that was pretty good. He earned his keep."
Last season, the Bulls had six players who scored more than 10 points in a game. Six games into this season, eight Bulls have already done so, showing a depth and balance USF didn't have with a dominant scorer like guard Dominique Jones last year.
"We have different rotations and different lineups on the court, and we all can bring a different spark," Anderson said. "At any given time, like Coach Heath has been saying, anybody can step up, too. The young guys are starting to get their confidence, and everybody's getting a feel for each other. We're molding pretty well."