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Second-half surge lifts USF past Saint Leo in exhibition

Tied with the Division II Lions at halftime, the Bulls pull away in the final eight minutes
USF senior point guard Laquincy Rideau drives for a layup against Saint Leo's Isaiah Hill during the Bulls' exhibition victory Tuesday against the Lions at the Yuengling Center. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
USF senior point guard Laquincy Rideau drives for a layup against Saint Leo's Isaiah Hill during the Bulls' exhibition victory Tuesday against the Lions at the Yuengling Center. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times] [ Joey Knight ]
Published Oct. 30, 2019

TAMPA – Unlike its closed scrimmage at Florida two weekends ago, USF opened the Yuengling Center doors for Tuesday’s exhibition against Saint Leo.

In hindsight, they might have preferred to keep parts of Tuesday’s first half concealed as well.

Junior Justin Brown’s long-range shooting represented the sharpest facet of the Bulls’ 76-62 victory. Before an announced audience of 2,198, third-year coach Brian Gregory mixed and matched his lineups at will and didn’t play All-American Athletic Conference candidate Alexis Yetna (mild leg injury).

The result was an uneven performance in which USF committed 18 turnovers and hit only five of 10 free throws, but forced 21 turnovers of its own and limited the Division II Lions to a 38.2-percent shooting effort (21-for-55).

“I thought the first eight minutes of the game and the first eight minutes of the second half, we did some really good things,” said Gregory, who used 11 players, seven of whom logged minutes for last season’s 24-14 squad.

“But it was kind of an inconsistent game, which sometimes you get in your exhibition games as you’re playing a lot of guys and giving guys different opportunities in different spots.”

All disclaimers, however, ended with this glorified rehearsal. USF’s next game, Nov. 5 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, will be for real.

Deemed a dark horse NCAA Tournament contender by several preseason magazines and pundits, USF jumped out to a 30-16 lead, but found itself tied 34-all at intermission. The Bulls committed two of their 10 first-half turnovers during a 12-0 Saint Leo run late in the half.

“We’ve got to do a better job taking care of the ball,” Gregory said. “It’s one of our key points, something we knew we had to do a better job of if we want to make strides as a team.”

But Brown hit one of his six 3-pointers during a 9-0 Bulls run early in the second half that gave the hosts a 53-38 lead. Saint Leo came within six once more, 56-50, but a Xavier Castaneda 3-pointer and layup by Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson (off a Brown steal) pushed USF’s advantage back to double digits.

Brown finished 6-for-7 from long range, leading all scorers with 19 points.

“It’s not really anything I think about,” he said. “I just go in there and think I’m gonna make every shot, honestly, when I shoot it. That’s my mentality.”

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Sophomore 7-footer Michael Durr finished with a double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds). Senior point guard Laquincy Rideau, slowed by a lower-leg injury down the stretch last season, had 13 points, five assists, three steals, a block and five turnovers.

“There are turnovers you can live with and turnovers you can’t,” Gregory said.

“Our guards handle the ball a lot; they’re very, very aggressive. There’s a lot of positives that come with their driving and getting the ball into the paint, so you’ve got to live with some of their turnovers.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.