TAMPA — Jumping out to big leads, learning to stay in control once ahead, cruising to decisive victories; these are still unfamiliar things for USF basketball under coach Stan Heath.
After taking a 24-6 lead against Hampton on Wednesday night, the Bulls (7-1) led by as many as 31, emptied their bench and made easy work of the Pirates in a 74-55 win.
"It is different. We haven't necessarily been in this situation. It's good for us to have this kind of experience, too," Heath said.
"It's good when you have freshmen, to let those guys get minutes, get a feel for playing … getting comfortable. The more we can do that, the more those guys can help us down the road. I want our team to be able to get those kinds of leads and hold onto those kinds of leads and not let them slip."
In Heath's first two seasons, in 62 games, the Bulls had six wins of 17 points or more. In eight games this season, they have four, including the past three. USF has matched the best eight-game mark in the program's history; twice, the Bulls have opened 11-1.
The Bulls, playing to a Sun Dome crowd announced at 2,753, showed their usual offensive balance, led by junior forward Jarrid Famous, who had USF's student section chanting "double double" before getting a late rebound for his first time reaching the mark with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Point guard Chris Howard had 13 points and eight assists (with just one turnover), and guard Dominique Jones had 13 points, six rebounds and six assists.
"We definitely want to come out and make a statement, to get ahead and take the game," said Howard, remembering nonconference games that got away last season against teams such as Niagara and Central Florida.
Hampton (2-6) played with a heavy heart in the hometown of senior forward Theo Smalling, 22, who died in October from injuries suffered in an accidental shooting. The Pirates draped his No. 12 jersey over a chair on their bench, and USF held a moment of silence in memory of the former Bloomingdale High star before the game.
The Bulls have 11 days off with a week of final exams before returning to the Sun Dome on Dec. 13 against Central Michigan, with UCF following to close out a five-game homestand three days later.