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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Bulls top SMU; Rudd tops 1,000 points

TAMPA — OK, who saw that coming?

The University of South Florida Bulls, desperately trying to escape from a horrid stretch in January, did just about everything right Tuesday night in defeating the SMU Mustangs 78-71 before 3,407 fans at the Sun Dome.

The Bulls (11-10, 2-6 American Athletic Conference), who ended a four-game losing streak, had been struggling mightily from the field. SMU (16-5, 5-3) was the nation’s No. 2-ranked defensive team. The matchup seemed ominous.

USF shot 53.1 percent, its best in AAC play. What’s more, the Bulls were 23-for-29 on free throws and iced the game by hitting their last 15 from the line.

“The way we’ve been shooting, I don’t know where we got that from, but we’ll try to ride it out,’’ said USF coach Stan Heath, smiling.

There were individual highlights galore.

Senior Victor Rudd, who was benched for the final 18 minutes at Memphis on Sunday because he “lost focus,’’ was superb with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting and he became the 18th player to reach 1,000 career points at USF.

Junior Corey Allen had 18 points, including a pair of late 3-pointers that kept the Bulls afloat.

Freshman Chris Perry tied a career high with 18 points (6-for-9 shooting) and contributed eight rebounds.

But the biggest factor was USF’s overall intensity, energy and pride.

“Their energy was amazing,’’ said SMU’s 73-year-old Hall of Fame coach, Larry Brown, who had beaten the Bulls soundly 71-54 on Jan. 15 in Dallas. “To have your team lose some games like they did and have Stan have them ready like this, I thought they did an unbelievable job. They outcoached us and they outplayed us.

“If I’m in that (USF) locker room right now, I’m pretty proud of my team because they played harder. They had great performances. I didn’t think there was one guy who played for them who didn’t contribute.

“That’s why you want to coach.’’

Heath was particularly proud of Rudd.

At Memphis, Rudd slipped into a funk and Heath wasn’t tolerating it. He had just six points, his third single-digit effort in USF’s past four games. Heath made his statement. He awaited Rudd’s response.

And it was a positive one.

“He responded the right way,’’ Heath said. “As a senior and our go-to guy, he really stepped up, especially down the stretch.’’

“I needed to bounce back for my teammates,’’ Rudd said. “I got out of character at Memphis. I had to let my teammates know that ain’t me. They look up to me. (Allen) came up to me right after the game and said, ‘I’m mad at you. You got to stay in the game.’ That helped me to get my head back right.’’

With only one day of preparation following the 80-58 debacle at Memphis, Heath said he got positive vibes from his players. They were manifested on the court.

“This is something we can point to,’’ Heath said. “We can say, ‘This is how we did it. This works. Let’s ride this out. There’s no reason they can’t buy in.’’

From the outside, nobody really say it coming. But it provided a glimpse of what the Bulls could become. USF’s next challenge is keeping it going on Super Bowl Sunday at No. 13-ranked Cincinnati.

“We had not been playing well,’’ Allen said. “Now we’re feeling good about ourselves. It was a good night.’’

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SMU (16-5) — Williams 2-3 1-2 5, Kennedy 2-5 7-10 11, Brown 0-1 1-2 1, N. Moore 9-16 1-1 23, Russell 2-8 6-6 10, Manuel 0-0 0-0 0, Frazier 3-9 0-0 8, Head 0-0 0-0 0, Cunningham 1-2 0-0 2, B. Moore 5-5 1-2 11. Totals 24-49 17-23 71.

SOUTH FLORIDA (11-10) — Rudd 8-12 4-4 21, LeDay 1-2 2-2 4, Egbunu 1-1 0-2 2, Allen Jr. 5-9 6-6 18, McLendon 2-8 2-2 6, Brock 3-7 3-6 9, Heath 0-1 0-0 0, Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0, Perry 6-9 6-7 18. Totals 26-49 23-29 78.

Halftime—South Florida 30-29. 3-Point Goals—SMU 6-13 (N. Moore 4-6, Frazier 2-5, Cunningham 0-1, Russell 0-1), South Florida 3-10 (Allen Jr. 2-3, Rudd 1-3, Heath 0-1, McLendon 0-3). Fouled Out—Kennedy. Rebounds—SMU 24 (Kennedy 8), South Florida 29 (Perry 8). Assists—SMU 13 (Kennedy, Russell 3), South Florida 13 (Allen Jr. 5). Total Fouls—SMU 20, South Florida 16. Technical—N. Moore. A—3,407.

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