Tampa- The undermanned University of South Florida men’s basketball team pulled away at the end for a much-needed 80-71 victory over the University of Memphis.  The Bulls (7-21 overall) improved to 4-11 in the American Athletic Conference while the Tigers (15-12 overall) dropped to 6-8 in the AAC.

USF had four players score in double figures led by guards Nehemias Morillo (19 points) and Jahmal McMurray (17 points) but the big story was the play of the Bulls bench.  Forward Chris Perry, pressed into service early with center Jaleel Cousins picking up two early fouls, led the way with 16 points followed closed by fellow reserve forward Angel Nunez contributing 13 markers.

When Perry was asked if he felt that he was going to have a good game early, he responded, “I didn’t feel it right away.  I wanted to make sure I got my teammates involved too.  I did start to get into the flow of the game.”

Head Coach Orlando Antigua, who was celebrating his birthday, was extremely pleased with Perry’s performance. “It’s huge,” Antigua stated.  “It’s huge when you can move the pieces around like that. We can use Chris on the inside or the outside.  That’s a huge benefit especially when he’s playing well.”

After a sluggish beginning for both teams, USF took an early 14-7 lead with a thunderous dunk by forward Ruben Guerrero.  When questioned on his role, Guerrero responded, “I just do what the team needs me to do. We find out what works best and continue to do that.”

At that point the Tigers could have rolled over and played dead especially with having to travel and an early 11:00 am tip-off but that was not the case.  They clawed their way back to tie the contest at 20 with 6:10 left in the opening half and take a 28-26 lead with 2:42 left in the opening half.  South Florida would answer late to take a one point lead (31-30) into halftime.

Memphis came out of the locker room to take its biggest lead of the game at 41-37 with 15:29 to go with a steal and breakaway dunk by reserve center Nick Marshall.  The Bulls would quickly retake the lead at 45-44 on a Perry jumper with 13:16 to go. 

Both teams would exchange leads of no more than three points until a McMurray jumper with 7:44 put the Bulls up to stay at 56-51.  USF would extend the lead to 15 with 47 ticks left in the contest on a Nunez layup. Only a 6-1 run by the Tigers, due to some sloppy play by the Bulls at the end, made the score look respectable.  As Antigua said, “We’ll chalk that up to inexperience.  We’ll learn from that and get better.”

One of the big reasons for the loss by the Tigers was their free throw shooting.  Memphis was 10 of 20 from the charity stripe but just 1 for 7 in the first half.  That fact was echoed by Head Coach Josh Pastern when he stated, “We’ve lost games on missed free throw this season and we shoot 74 or 75%.  We missed a lot of free throw and that was not a good sign for us.  We had a chance to stretch the lead in the first half but didn’t and, normally, we are a very good free throw shooting team.”

Antigua, when asked if he was happy with the way his team attacked the rim, responded enthusiastically, “We certainly wanted to get to the basket and get to the free throw line.  We did a good job of driving the defense but we did miss a bunch of shot especially early on.  In the second half we did make some shot and that was good.  We needed that to happen.”

Antigua is totally correct.  The Bulls needed that win, in fact any win, to build some momentum going into the conference tournament.  But even more important, as Antigua stated, “We’re starting to play well.” And that, heading into the conference tournament where anything can happen, is of utmost importance.