TAMPA – Chris Perry woke up Tuesday feeling good. “I told myself I wasn’t going to have another bad game,’’ he said. “I had been playing awful lately.’’
It was that simple.
Perry, who had largely been invisible during the University of South Florida’s American Athletic Conference season, responded by tying his career high with 18 points, while chipping in eight rebounds, in USF’s 78-71 victory against the SMU Mustangs.
For the Bulls (11-10, 2-6 AAC), it provided hope as they head to a Super Bowl Sunday game at No. 13-ranked Cincinnati, where USF is 1-14 all-time with 10 straight defeats. The AAC-leading Bearcats (19-2, 8-0) are at Louisville tonight.
For Perry, a 6-foot-8, 266-pound freshman from Bartow High School, it boosted his confidence. Perry had been shooting 36.4 percent from the field in seven AAC games. Against SMU, he was 6-for-9.
“The level of competition has picked up a lot,’’ said Perry, who tried to dunk everything in warm-ups to avoid a “going soft’’ feeling that he said crept into his game. “I want to make sure I’m in the mix and (don’t want anybody to think) that since he’s in conference, he’s not that good now.’’
The development of Perry and 6-10, 245-pound John Egbunu, another freshman, is vital to USF’s success.
“I think our freshmen big men have hit the adversity wall,’’ USF coach Stan Heath said. “When things are going well, they’re fine. When adversity hits, that’s when their struggles set in a little bit.
“We certainly need scoring from those two guys. When we don’t have it, it’s a big void for us offensively. The bright side is these guys are going through a lot, where other freshmen would be sitting on the bench, getting experience by watching. They’re right in the fire and it’s going to make them better in the long run.’’
Collins: I’m staying
Junior point guard Anthony Collins, an All-AAC preseason second-team pick who has missed 11 consecutive games with knee swelling and tendinitis following surgery, approached reporters Monday to say he’s trying his best to get healthy and rejoin the team. Denying rumors, Collins added he’s happy at USF, wants to play for Heath and does not plan to transfer.
“I feel I can help the team win, but I want to be 100 percent and not out there hobbling around on one leg,’’ said Collins, who said his preseason surgery was supposed to be routine, but there were complications due to an unforeseen reaction in his blood. “I still do want to be here and play for Coach Heath. He recruited me. I support him 100 percent. …I’m committed to being here.’’
If Collins can’t return this year, he’s a candidate for a medical redshirt, which would give him two more seasons at USF.
“We wish he was playing, but we can’t do anything about that,’’ Bulls senior forward Victor Rudd said. “He may not be coming back. He may be coming back. I don’t know. We’ve just got to continue to play and get wins without him.’’
Willie Taggart’s football program reeled in non-binding verbal commitments from Sarasota Booker RB Marlon Mack and Nature Coast DE Rohan Blackwood. Mack had offers from UCLA, Michigan and Louisville, among others. National Signing Day is Wednesday. …QB Mike White, who started five games as a freshman, could join USF’s baseball team after spring practice. White was 9-2 with an 0.43 ERA as a senior pitcher at Fort Lauderdale University High. …The USF football spring game is Saturday, March 29 at Raymond James Stadium at 4 p.m. Admission and parking are free. …Freshman guard Jake Bodway, who joined practice on Jan. 20, has been added to the men’s basketball roster. He’s from Minneapolis and moved when his parents relocated to Tampa. …The USF Baseball Golf Classic, a fund-raiser for Lelo Prado’s program, is Saturday, Feb. 22. The four-man, 18-hole scramble begins at noon. Entrance fee of $175 includes greens fee, cart rental, a USF goodie bag, refreshments and lunch, plus dinner at the USF Baseball Stadium, coinciding with a game against Penn State. For information, call (813) 974-2504.