By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - The Bulls' tune-up for the regular season was filled with solid performances and teaching points Monday night at the brand new Sun Dome.
Victor Rudd led four USF players in double figures with 14 points in a 74-65 victory over an Eckerd team that helped the Bulls prepare well for Saturday night's season opener against UCF.
"That's a really good team to play. They have veterans back from an NCAA Tournament team last year and every time we made a mistake they made us pay," USF head coach Stan Heath said.
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and newcomer JaVontae Hawkins each scored 13 points, while Jawanza Poland's 10-point performance included two monster dunks that wowed fans in the Bulls' first game in their newly renovated home.
USF ran its new fast-paced offense well at times despite both its point guards - Anthony Collins and Martino Brock - not being 100 percent. Collins has been dealing with a calf strain, but added eight points and four assists. Brock has been battling an illness, but still posted nine assists and no turnovers in his first action as a Bull.
"If we can get that kind of production from a backup point, that's encouraging. That's an area where we weren't strong at last year," Heath said.
USF had a 35-29 lead at the end of a first half that showcased Hawkins' ability to score when the Bulls needed production. The freshman from Flint, Mich., turned a two-point game into a 32-22 Bulls lead with eight straight points, including a smooth 3-pointer off an assist from Brock.
"He's got that quick first step and he has a nice shot when he gets his feet set. He's going to be a nice weapon to bring into the game," said Heath of Hawkins, who went 5-for-6 from the field.
The Bulls were able to stay ahead in the second half by playing trademark USF defense and limiting Eckerd to just 32 percent from the field. USF's offense kicked it up a notch as well by shooting 56 percent after the break with its veterans leading the way. Rudd scored nine points in the period, while Fitzpatrick and Poland combined for 11 points to help the Bulls gain confidence using a different style going up the court.
"I think we did a solid job sharing the ball. We have a lot of new faces out there, so we tried to get a feel for each other," Fitzpatrick said.
Eckerd kept things close by outrebounding USF, 42-34, with Darrien Mack and Malcolm Brunner Jr. combining for 23 boards and 23 points. The Tritons also held a 19-5 edge in second-chance points.
"We have to shore that up," Heath said. "It's an easy fix fundamentally, but it's a hard fix because we have to get tougher. We have to get better at that."
USF has a few practices to get things corrected before hosting the Knights 7 p.m. Saturday back at the Sun Dome....