TAMPA – Proven veterans and fresh faces helped the Bulls give their fans a lot to look forward to in Saturday night's season opener.
Victor Rudd scored a team-high 23 points and freshman Chris Perry added 14 points in his collegiate debut as USF got past Tennessee Tech, 72-62, before a crowd of 4,103 at the Sun Dome. USF is now 32-11 in season openers and 3-0 in its all-time series with the Golden Eagles.
Perry’s points were the most by a USF freshman in a season opener since Soloman Bozeman put up 23 in a 77-61 win over Buffalo on Nov. 13, 2006 at the Sun Dome.
“I thought he gave us an inside presence we need and he played very big for us in the paint with rebounds,” said Heath of Perry, a 6-foot-8 Bartow, Fla., product, that finished with seven boards.
USF’s other new big man, 6-foot-10 freshman John Egbunu, added seven points and seven rebounds to help the Bulls finish with a 41-38 advantage on the glass.
“Between those guys we’re looking at 21 points and 14 rebounds out of that spot, I like that,” Heath said. “For a period of time I played Chris and John together and I like that combination. I definitely see that as a future combination.”
Newcomer Corey Allen Jr., a junior from St. Louis, posted seven points, seven assists and four rebounds in place of starting point guard Anthony Collins. Senior guard Martino Brock finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
USF relied on its stingy defense early while the offense heated up late to give the Bulls a 28-19 lead at halftime.
Perry and Rudd scored six points apiece as USF took a 17-11 lead past the midway point of the first half despite starting 2-for-12 from the field. USF responded by going 9-for-14 the rest of the half as Rudd led the way with eight points and four rebounds.
Tennessee Tech, from the Ohio Valley Conference, made just eight of its 27 field goal attempts in the first period and turned the ball over nine times.
Tennessee Tech cut its deficit to 32-25 with a 3-pointer by Ty Allen with 16:01 remaining before the Bulls responded in a big way. An alley-oop dunk and a layup by Perry sparked a 9-2 run that pumped the Bulls’ lead up to 41-27 with 13:04 to play.
“There were some really, really good plays out there,” Heath said. “I think when our team plays unselfishly and makes the easy plays we can be really good.”
USF took a 13-point lead past the 9-minute mark, but Tennessee Tech didn’t go down without a fight. The Golden Eagles cut its deficit to four twice and Allen’s layup with 5:28 remaining made it a 52-49.
The Bulls made sure that’s as close as Tennessee Tech would get the rest of the way by closing the game on a 20-13 run. Rudd scored 13 points during USF’s closing performance and went 10-for-10 at the free throw line during the stretch.
“We need these types of games early to get tested. We battled through and got the win. I think it was a good experience for all the young guys,” Rudd said.
The Bulls are back in action 7 p.m. Tuesday against Bethune-Cookman at the Sun Dome. Purchase tickets HERE.