If the University of South Florida men’s basketball team is going to salvage this season, it will be because of the consistent contributions from its front-court trio of Victor Rudd, John Egbunu and Chris Perry.
In bad losses to Louisville and Memphis, the three combined to shoot an abysmal 14-of-44 from the field and account for only 33 total points — for a team that does not shoot well from outside, that low output makes it very difficult to win games against any team, let alone the no. 12 and no. 23 ranked teams in the country.
However in Tuesday night’s 78-71 victory over Southern Methodist University Mustangs, which improved the Bulls to 11-10 overall and 2-6 in conference for the season, the trio showed how good the Bulls team can be if those three are playing well. Even in a game that saw center John Egbunu only attempt one shot, Chris Perry picked up the slack and tied a career high in scoring with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. Perry, a 6’8 freshman forward from Bartow FL, epitomizes the up and down season for the Bulls — he has shown glimpses of being a legitimate low-post threat, but there are also times that he reminds Bulls fans that he is a freshman with his inconsistent play.
After not playing the last 18 minutes of the second half against Memphis, Rudd responded well to being benched and came out playing with a better energy. During his weekly radio show Coach Stan Heath admitted that the turnaround for Rudd began during Monday’s practice and carried over into the game-day shoot around and later on in the game.
In the process of scoring a game high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, Rudd surpassed the 1000 point scoring mark in his USF career and moved into 17th place on the all-time scoring list passing Doug Wallace.
Being able to rely more on the inside scorers will be key to being in a better position for more wins for the Bulls as they have to find ways to get easy baskets. On the night they only made three three-pointers but because of the interior profficiency, the team still ended the night shooting 53% from the field.
In addition to the improved play offensively, the trio also did a better job of containing the SMU Mustangs interior players as well. In the first match-up, a 17 point road loss, the inside duo of Markus Kennedy and Shawn Williams combined for 34 points 17 rebounds and zero fouls. On Tuesday the tandem was not as efficient only scoring 17 total points and 8 rebounds — Kennedy also had an uncharacteristic eight turnovers and eventually fouled out of the game.
One bright spot for the Mustangs, who had won their previous five games in conference, was Sophomore guard Nic Moore. In making four three-pointers on the way to scoring 23 points Moore gave AAC opponents a glimpse at what they could be dealing with for the next two season.
The next game for USF is a road match-up with the no. 13 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats — Cincinnati is 9-0 in conference play and 20-2 overall. This is a rematch from a January 18th 61-54 defeat at the USF Sun Dome that saw Bearcats guard Sean Kilpatrick go for 18 points while the Bulls were led by Javontae Hawkins 15 points. If the Bulls can limit Cincinnati’s three-point success– they made 7 in the last game, there could be an upset on the horizon but if not, they will need another good performance from inside players to keep the game close.