DALLAS — In a preseason assessment of his team, USF basketball coach Stan Heath said he hoped sophomore forward Gus Gilchrist would take some of the scoring pressure off of junior guard Dominique Jones.
Gilchrist did more than help out Friday night. He topped the Bulls with 23 points as they opened the season with a 67-61 victory against Southern Methodist at Moody Coliseum.
"He took a big load off," Heath said. "He's another punch people are really going to have to prepare for. We always knew he had skill. He asserted himself inside."
The Bulls swept a home-and-home series over two seasons with the Mustangs. They defeated SMU 60-46 to open last season in Tampa.
Gilchrist shot 8-of-12 from the field and 6-of-8 from the free-throw line. He also hit his only 3-pointer. He more than doubled his scoring average of 10.2 points last season when he joined the Bulls in mid December after transferring from Maryland. He also picked up where he left off last season when he led the team with 24 blocked shots, swatting away a pair of shots Friday.
He finished one rebound shy of a double double, leading all players with nine.
"The way we play, hopefully everybody will score," Gilchrist said. "We should be a better passing team this season."
Gilchrist keyed two big runs as the Bulls overcame a three-point halftime deficit to shoot 65 percent in the final 20 minutes. He scored nine in a 12-2 burst, putting the Bulls ahead 48-43 with 11:46 to play. Then, after the Mustangs tied it at 49 with a 6-1 run, Gilchrist scored four in a 9-0 run to put the Bulls back on top to stay.
Paul McCoy scored seven and assisted on a 3-pointer late for SMU. But the Mustangs could get no closer than four.
"We just caught fire," Gilchrist said of the second half.
Jones, who only had two points at halftime, scored 11 in the second. Chris Howard scored 10 of his 14 points and had four of his seven assists in the second half.
Heath and Gilchrist said the road win was especially sweet. USF was 2-15 away from home last season and 9-22 overall.
"We want to have a successful season, and to do that you have to win on the road," said Heath, whose team bucked another trend, having gone 2-17 last season when trailing at halftime.
The Bulls play their home opener at 7:30 p.m. Monday against Virginia.