TAMPA — Victor Rudd's night started with two bad misses, including an air ball, exasperating the USF junior forward.
"I felt like it wasn't going to ever go in," he said.
But Rudd bounced back in a big way, scoring 24 second-half points after a scoreless first, leading the Bulls to a 64-49 win Wednesday over St. John's in front of 3,145 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"That was pretty impressive," coach Stan Heath said of Rudd. "And some pretty impressive plays."
There were plenty to choose from, including Rudd's 5-for-7 performance from 3-point range or the tip-dunk he had off a rebound. But the biggest highlight was Rudd soaring over and "posterizing" God'sgift Achiuwa for a one-handed slam, sending the Red Storm forward back to earth.
"I want the (SportsCenter) No. 1 play this time," Rudd said, smiling.
Rudd may have stolen the show, but it was a strong team effort by USF (11-8, 4-2), which has won four of five and is off to its best-ever Big East start.
Freshman guard Anthony Collins set the table with eight assists. Senior Hugh Robertson set the tone defensively by holding Red Storm guard D'Angelo Harrison to eight points, seven fewer than his season average. Forward Ron Anderson (nine points, eight rebounds) and junior Jawanza Poland (16 points) stepped up off the bench on a night when senior forward Augustus Gilchrist was a nonfactor (four points, no field goals). And USF, which leads the league in scoring defense, held the freshmen-laden Red Storm to a season-low-matching point total.
"It's hard living on the road when you can't make baskets," St. John's acting coach Mike Dunlap said.
Rudd, a 6-foot-7, 221-pound forward who sat out last year after transferring from Arizona State, has had to learn the hard way the rigors of playing in "the highest level of basketball." Rudd began his Bulls career with a bang, scoring 30 in his second game. But he reached double digits four times in the next 17.
"This is like my freshman year," Rudd said. "I'm still learning the game, learning to play in the Big East."
Heath said he has noticed a change in Rudd since the new year in attitude and work ethic, as he's becoming more of a complete player. He hopes Wednesday can be a "coming-out party" for Rudd, who made 8 of 10 shots in the second half after an 0-for-5 start.
"Hopefully, this can get me back to where I want to be," Rudd said. "And more wins for us."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.