TAMPA — It's only two games, but there's a different energy around USF's basketball team.
The Bulls played with confidence Monday night in pulling away to a 66-49 win against Virginia before a crowd of 4,193 in the Sun Dome.
"I thought our defense picked up as the game wore on, and I thought we had really good balance, inside and outside," coach Stan Heath said.
Junior guard Dominique Jones led the Bulls with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting, with a little bit of everything — seven rebounds, four assists and four steals.
And while Jones' scoring is an established commodity, the Bulls are just starting to appreciate the idea of two big men scoring in double digits.
In the 6-10 Gus Gilchrist and 6-11 Jarrid Famous, USF had two dominant post players. Gilchrist had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Famous had 12 points and eight rebounds in just his second game with the Bulls.
"Both Gus and Jarrid, I thought, really commanded the paint, both in scoring and rebounding, and Jones in the second half was huge for us," Heath said.
The Bulls (2-0) didn't get their first lead until 5:23 remained in the first half and Jones hit an open 3-pointer. They took a 31-27 halftime lead and ran with it, scoring the first nine of the second half, punctuated by a steal and dunk by Jones that prompted a timeout by Virginia (1-1).
"They were a physical team, and Jones was as good as advertised," first-year Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "He made tough shots to get his stuff going."
There was another unexpected source of scoring as backup point guard Justin Leemow matched his career high with nine points, going 3-of-3 on 3-pointers.
"As the game wore on, I thought their defense toughened up, and we did a role reversal and ours softened," said Bennett, who was missing three contributing players due to suspension, injury and personal leave.
It's the third time in four seasons the Bulls have beaten an ACC foe. They beat Wake Forest in 2006 and Florida State in 2007, losing to Virginia last season in Charlottesville. Virginia has an 11-game losing streak in Florida dating to 2001.
"It's an ACC school, a school with credibility, and they return a lot of players from last season," Heath said. "It's a game that kind of got away from us last season. They have a pretty good name in college basketball."
USF hits the road for the Charleston Classic, starting with Davidson on Thursday night.
Times writer Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.