TAMPA — If Stan Heath was worried about his team's rebounding, this was certainly how to rebound.
Coming off a frustrating loss to Central Michigan, with a starting guard gone because of a family illness and left with seven scholarship players, the USF coach saw his team build a lead and stay in control, pulling out a solid 69-65 win against Central Florida in front of a season-high 4,627 in the Sun Dome on Wednesday.
"I didn't know who that team was on Sunday, so I was a little shaken, taken aback," Heath said after his team improved to 8-2. "Sometimes you're going to have a tough loss, a bad loss, and more than anything, you want to see your team respond. We did."
Junior guard Dominique Jones was dominant, piling up 27 points, with five steals and six rebounds. In one sequence, he blocked a dunk, then hit a 3-pointer.
UCF coach Kirk Speraw called him "one of the best guards in the country."
"He's unselfish. He gets a lot of points, but he also distributes the basketball," Speraw said. "He scores in so many ways. He's phenomenal in transition. Obviously he stepped up and had another big game against us. We don't have an answer for him at all."
More important, USF had a supporting cast around him. Point guard Chris Howard hit a 3-pointer on the first possession, finishing with 14 points and six assists, and guard Mike Mercer scored USF's first five points of the second half on the way to 12, with four assists.
The Bulls outrebounded UCF 38-27, holding the Knights to five offensive rebounds and just two in the second half. USF center Jarrid Famous — who had totaled one rebound in 32 minutes Sunday, prompting Heath to say "a dead man can almost get that" — had nine boards in the first half, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"He was like Lazarus. He just rose from the dead," Heath joked. "I thought he responded in a big way. He set the tone with the rebounding. He was a warrior (Wednesday). He had stitches in his eye, cramps in his legs, knee bruises, and like a boxer, he got taped up and went back in."
The most impressive line of the night might have been senior walk-on guard Ryan Kardok, who hit a 3-pointer for his first career points and played 20 minutes, one fewer than he'd totaled in the first nine games.
"This guy right here did a terrific job," Heath said. "I've been kicking myself for the last year, saying 'Man, this guy's consistent, he's smart, makes shots, I need to play him.' I've never pulled the trigger until what I had to do (Wednesday). It's almost a blessing in disguise."
UCF (7-3) got a season-high 11 points from freshman guard Marcus Jordan, the son of NBA legend Michael Jordan. Palm Harbor's A.J. Tyler added eight points but just one rebound in 30 minutes.
USF has finished a five-game home stand and heads to Las Vegas, where it will play San Francisco and San Diego.