TAMPA — Stan Heath hopes his USF team can become the defensive stalwarts of last year's NCAA Tournament run, and the final 15 minutes of Tuesday's game against Youngstown State were a promising nod to those Bulls.
Trailing 45-39 with 15 minutes to play, USF's defense clamped down on the Penguins, who shot 15 percent the rest of the way and went the final 9:46 without a field goal as the Bulls pulled out a 72-54 win before an announced crowd of 3,680 in the Sun Dome.
"I thought our defense kept turning it up and turning it up, and we finally were able to get the stops we needed," Heath said. "It was a good second half for us, and hopefully our guys are understanding that we can't take anybody lightly."
Victor Rudd had a season-high 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, leading the Bulls (6-3) to a 45-35 edge on the boards. Point guard Anthony Collins had 14 points and seven assists, hitting back-to-back runners to spark a 10-2 run that gave USF the lead for good.
"I think we know we have all the pieces. It's just a point of putting everything together and playing as a team," said Collins, who had 13 days between games to rest a nagging calf injury.
Youngstown hit seven 3-pointers in the first half, which ended with a 33-33 tie. USF came out of the break sluggish enough that Heath called time out with 17:07 left and the Bulls trailing by three.
"They were beating us down the floor, and I'm thinking to myself, 'Man, we must be out of shape,' " Heath said. "That's all we talked about: 'We're out of shape. I'm going to run the heck out of you guys until we get back in shape. That's my fault.' Seemed like after that, we got back in better shape."