TAMPA — Two nights after a deflating double-digit loss to Elon, USF seemed headed toward a similar result midway through the second half on Saturday night.
After leading for more than 14 minutes in the first half against Rider, the Bulls' advantage had lapsed into a three-point halftime deficit due to foul trouble. Eight minutes into the second half, that hole stretched to eight when a 3-pointer from freshman Malik Fitts clanked off the rim and Rider's Norville Carey dunked on the other end.
But USF rallied, pulling ahead for good on a free throw by Tulio Da Silva six minutes later to survive for a 70-65 triumph before an announced 2,639 at the Sun Dome.
"We watched some of the film on the things that we needed to correct (from Elon), and it was a lot of stuff that was self-inflicted that we had to improve on," said USF coach Orlando Antigua.
"I thought we did a better job with some of those things."
Though the Bulls (2-1) never managed a lengthy run against Rider (3-1), a New Jersey private school picked to finish seventh in the 11-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, they did just enough offensively.
An alley-oop dunk by Bo Zeigler off an inbounds pass, and a pair of 3-pointers by Troy Holston kept the deficit from expanding to double digits in the second half. Then, after Da Silva gave the Bulls their lead back, he followed up with a dunk moments later to keep the momentum going.
From there, USF locked down on defense, holding the Broncs to 38 percent, including 15 percent on 3s.
Penn State transfer Geno Thorpe had a game-high 18 points for the Bulls, who shot 46 percent (26-of-56). Fitts added 11.
"Still got a long ways to go," Antigua said, "and all we can worry about is trying to take advantage of the opportunity to … improve a little bit. That's all we can do."