TAMPA, Fla. — Can we please come home?
After spending the Christmas holiday on board a plane, in hotels rooms, playing games in exciting venues like the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada and then a trip to the snow-covered shore line of the Illinois River and beautiful Peoria, Illinois. The University of South Florida basketball team and their coach Stan Heath should be ready to come home.
The Bulls, left all of the comfort’s of home inside the Sun Dome, Dec. 19 with an emotional win over Florida A&M University as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Basketball Tournament.
Before the trip and after the 73-70, victory against the Rattlers, Heath wondered aloud about his team.
“I don’t know about this team,” Heath said.
Leaving for Las Vegas, the Bulls were feeling confident, playing with a sense of purpose and playing with some personality but under the hot spotlight, the color of the neon lights and all of the distraction of Las Vegas, the Bulls’ trip to Peoria would be an welcomed oasis after the excitement of Las Vegas.
The Bulls dropped both games in Las Vegas, the first game, Dec 22, lost was against Southeastern Conference member, Mississippi State University. The Bulls lost 71-66, against the Bulldogs.
“Our defense wasn’t good in the first half but we settled down in the second half,” Heath said. “We gave up way too many transition baskets.”
In front of friends and family, against Mississippi State University, senior forward Victor Rudd scored 17 points, 11 rebounds and blocked two shots for the Bulls.
Guard Corey Allen Jr. helped Rudd and the Bulls by scoring 16 points, helping with four assist and Allen was perfect at the free throw line going 8-of-8, in front of his relations and his friends from St. Louis, Missouri.
A concern for Heath, before the trip, how the Bulls would react to playing games on consecutive nights?
The following night, Dec 23 against Santa Clara University, the Broncos scored 11 points in the final 3:47 and defeated the Bulls 66-65 to even their tournament record at 2-2 and finishing fourth in the six-team tournament.
“This was a tough one to lose,” heath said about the lost against the Broncos. “We did everything you would think would give you the win except make free throws. We out shot them. We out rebounded them. We played hard and we played well as a team but you can’t go 9-of-24!”
After shooting a season high of 80 percent from the free throw line the previous night against Mississippi State University. The Bulls shot a horrible 37.5 percent from the line against the Broncos.
The Bulls and Heath needed a chance, to just forget the last game in Las Vegas and the Santa Clara University Broncos with a good solid performance Dec 28 against the Missouri Valley Conference member-Bradley University.
The University of South Florida defeated Bradley University 61-57, in front of 6,221 watching the game inside the historic home of the Braves, Carver Arena and bringing an end to the non-conference portion of the 2013-14 basketball schedule.
Freshman Chris Perry scored 18 points leading the way for the Bulls’ offense and Rudd finished the game with 17 points and he hulled in five rebounds against the Braves.
The Bulls played hard under the basket on both ends of the floor and out rebounding the Braves 34-28.
The Bulls shot 48.9 percent from the floor but once again the Bulls had trouble at the free throw line against Bradley University. Going to the free throw line 22 times, but the Bulls could only convert 54.4 percent from the line.
Leading the Braves in scoring, Walt Lemon Jr. with 17 points and he dished out a game-high seven assist also helping the Braves from the floor Tyshon Picket with 16 points but the Bulls defense forced the Braves into 11 turnovers and five steals.
Coming back home to the Sun Dome with an 9-4 non conference record, Heath and the Bulls have to feel a sense of accomplishment by being above the .500 mark.
The American Athletic Conference season begins and the Bulls can’t quit to compete, they will have to continue to improve, especially at the free throw line.
Nobody is expecting USF to win the conference, the talent of this league is noteworthy and there are good teams with good coaches even legendary coaches like Sothern Methodist University’s Larry Brown.
With teams like the University of Connecticut, Cincinnati and last year’s champion of the NCAA, the University of Louisville these games will be tough games.
What fans are hoping for, is that Bulls do the best that they can on the road maybe get a win or an upset of an opponent at their venue but at home play like Bulls and do not give up the home court.
The Bulls will open up the conference schedule and celebrating New Year’s Eve by hosting the No. 17 team in the country, the University of Memphis into the Sun Dome, Tuesday night Dec. 31 starting at 7 p.m.
Heath and the Bulls will be hoping that the new year will be starting out with a surprise for the University of Memphis and for the rest of the conference-because there is no place like home sweet home.
About the Author
Written by Mel Suiter
Graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2002 and have been working as a beat writer for The Ypsilanti Courier covering Eastern Michigan University football and men's basketball during my school career and after graduation. I like the Mid-American Conference and the rest of the mid-major conferences.