Defensive Effort Keys Bulls' Victory
TAMPA - Sparked by the best defensive first half in Stan Heath's coaching career, the University of South Florida defeated Northeastern 55-37 Saturday night at the Sun Dome. The Huskies' 37 points were the second-fewest allowed in a game by USF, only three points off the school record allowed to St. Peter's in a 45-34 win Dec. 4, 1985. "I've never had a team that held a team that low in the first half," Heath said. "It's hard to say anyone I've coached was better than tonight, that's for sure." The only thing missing from the first half were peach baskets. The Huskies had only 11 points in an offensive-challenged opening 20 minutes, missed 25 of 29 shots from the field and had more turnovers (five) than field goals (four). The Bulls weren't much better with eight field goals and seven turnovers, but led 22-11 at intermission."We ran into a team that was more physical at each position," Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. USF sophomore Dominique Jones finished with a game-high 20 points and added six rebounds and four assists. For a second consecutive game, Aris Williams tied his career high with 11 points - the same number of points he scored in 18 games last season - and had seven rebounds. Jesus Verdejo added 10 points. "I've been working hard in practice and it carries over to the game," said Williams, who is finally healthy after being plagued with knee injuries the past two seasons. "I've been waiting for the opportunity and just trying to take full advantage of it." Added Jones: "Aris played good, he surprised me. He keeps surprising me as the games go by." USF trailed 11-10 with 5:26 remaining in the first half, but closed the first half with 12 consecutive points and then opened the second half with a 4-0 run to take control, 26-11. "I told 'em the team there were three minutes and something left in the half and we had 11 points," Jones said. "Everybody was like, 'We have to get it going, we have to make a run, finish strong.' Coach always tells us to finish the half strong." The Huskies' 37 points were their fewest since scoring 39 in 1995 in an 86-39 loss at UConn. The Huskies (3-3), who were picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association, had won at Providence this season, but were no match for the Bulls (3-1). Northeastern's Matt Janning, who averaged 24 points in his last three games, was held scoreless until making a free throw with 13:12 remaining and missed his first eight field goals. He finished with only three points, 17 below his average. "To hold him to one of 11 shooting was a great feat for us and the key to the game," Heath said. "We took one of their best weapons out of sync and it allowed us to get a grab on the game. We got some offense from our defense."
Reporter Brett McMurphy can be reached at (813) 259-7928.