TAMPA — Like many college basketball teams in the topsy-turvy coronavirus era, the USF men are working to find a rhythm.
Case in point was Tuesday night’s 73-62 victory over Stetson, a game in which the Bulls sometimes looked in synch and sometimes looked like a team that was, as coach Brian Gregory said, “still finding its way.”
The first 10 minutes had several rough spots before ending in a 16-7 advantage for the Hatters. The final 10 minutes of the half, however, were pretty darned good with the Bulls reeling off a 13-0 run and ending the half with a 40-26 advantage, which USF basically maintained the rest of the way.
“Unfortunately we came out in the second half and just kind of played (without the same energy), which was disappointing because it was a 20-minute opportunity to get better,” Gregory said. “But we just didn’t do that. We didn’t have the focus in the second half.”
Gregory was particularly concerned with second-half turnovers (nine in the final 20 minutes) and free-throw percentage: the Bulls made 7-of-12 in the second half and only 13-of-24 for the game, or 54.2 percent.
That said, there were bright spots, including senior guard David Collins and freshman guard Caleb Murphy, who finished with a game-high 18 and 12 points, respectively. Perhaps more encouraging was the ball-handling. Collins finished with four assists and three turnovers, while Murphy had six assists and one turnover.
Under the boards, meantime, USF held a 42-27 advantage, but Gregory still was concerned with what his players did after they grabbed the ball.
“(After getting the rebound) we either need to score or kick it out,” Gregory said. “There’s no sense in working so hard to get the rebound and then to have turn into a turnover or a fast break on the other end. That’s not acceptable. We need to be more physical and play stronger.”
Gregory and Collins said part of the problem is not having a lot of reps with this group, simply because of coronavirus restrictions (which led to a game cancellation last Friday against FAMU) and having new players, such as the freshman Murphy.
“It has been an adjustment getting used to playing with different guys,” Collins said. “All of us getting better at working together. You have to take every practice very seriously because that’s really the only way you can get your reps for the games. It’s been challenging.”
Because of the FAMU cancellation, Tuesday was the first game the Bulls had played in six days, but it at least was their second straight victory, pushing their record to 3-2 heading into Saturday’s game in Atlanta against LSU. USF follows with its American Athletic Conference opener at Cincinnati on Dec. 16. The Bulls will not play another home game until Dec. 22 against Wichita State.
Another bright spot for USF heading into the upcoming tough stretch is the continued strong play from redshirt junior Alexis Yetna, who is coming back from a season-ending knee injury. On Tuesday, the 6-foot-9 forward finished with 13 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes.
The next win gives Gregory 300 for his career, which has spanned 17 years, including stints at Dayton (2003-11) and Georgia Tech (2012-16) before coming to USF, where he is now 51-55 overall.