Slowed at first by Southern Miss' sluggish tempo, USF gets a spark from Altron Jackson and surges to a 74-54 win.
By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 9, 2002
TAMPA -- Apparently it was culture shock.
After Saturday's helter-skelter 40-minute race, er, game against TCU, South Florida players seemed perplexed by tortoise-like Southern Miss. For 10 minutes, the Bulls impassively slogged around the court with the Golden Eagles.
Then Altron Jackson checked into the game and USF ditched the snow shoes for speed skates. The Bulls raised the tempo to their liking and surged past the Golden Eagles to a 74-54 win.
Trailing 14-5 a little more than 10 minutes into the game -- there were more timeouts (three) than USF baskets (two) at that point -- the Bulls embarked on a 37-9 run, carrying into the second half, to take control.
"The first 10 minutes, I think we were looking for TCU," USF coach Seth Greenberg said of the sluggish start. "Our aggressiveness on the defensive end really, really was huge. We made them react to us. I'm most pleased with our halfcourt defense."
USF improved to 11-3, 2-0 in Conference USA. Southern Miss, playing without suspended leading scorer Elvin Mims (18.1 points, 6.9 rebounds), committed 20 turnovers in dropping to 5-7, 0-2.
The bench and defense made the difference for the Bulls. Freshman Marlyn Bryant (6 points, 3 assists, 2 steals) brought infectious energy, center Mike Bernard (six points, four blocks) was effective on both ends and Jackson (game-high 20 points, three steals), not starting for disciplinary reasons for the second straight game, was his usual superb self. He blunted the Golden Eagles' attack from the top of USF's extended 1-3-1 defense.
"I was just waiting to get in the game," Jackson said. "Once I got in the game, we turned it on. The legs started cooking.
"We knew we'd have to use our legs to try to speed it up. Once we started pressuring them, they turned it over."
"(Jackson's) real good at that. When he has his hands up, he disrupts passing lanes," Greenberg said. "Marlyn Bryant's energy is fun to watch. It's like he's shot out of a cannon. He's just a damn rocket."
Bryant was involved in one of the game's most exciting plays during the first-half scoring spree. Reggie Kohn saved the ball from going out of bounds, throwing it over his head to B.B. Waldon, who threw it right back to Kohn. Bryant, meanwhile, sprinted downcourt to the corner. Kohn hit him with a long pass and Bryant drained the 3-pointer to make it 22-17.
Without Mims, who also sat out the previous game (a loss at Memphis) for undisclosed reasons, the Golden Eagles were overmatched by the USF defense. Brad Richardson was USM's leading scorer with 11.
"The biggest thing was their effort level came up, and we didn't match that," Southern Miss coach James Green said. "We were more mesmerized by it than matching it."
After scoring five points in the first 10-plus minutes, USF closed the half with 27 points in less than 10 minutes. Jackson, who sat the first six minutes as Jimmy Baxter got his second straight start, kicked off the scoring run with a 3-pointer to make it 14-8, and it was all Bulls from there.
USF scored 12 straight to take a 17-14 lead, and a midcourt steal and dunk by Jackson put USF up 26-17.
The Bulls led 32-23 at intermission, then opened the second half with a 10-0 run, punctuated by back-to-back 3-pointers by Kohn (nine points). Southern Miss never got closer than 15 from there.
It was a far cry from the schools' last meeting at the end of last season. On March 3, Southern Miss defeated USF 83-77 in Hattiesburg, Miss., to clinch the National Division crown. Greenberg reminded his players of that Monday.
"Coach, he mentioned it to us," Jackson said. "They cut the nets down, had the T-shirts, fans went crazy."
Freshman point guard Brian Swift added seven points for USF and Waldon, coming off a career-high 37 against TCU, had 8 points (all in the first half), 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
Seniors Waldon and Jackson have the same career point total, 1,663. They are tied for third in USF and Conference USA history.
After opening the conference season with two home games, the Bulls head to the road, playing Saturday at DePaul and Tuesday at Memphis.
"There's a lot of good teams in this league, and you've got to hold your home court," Jackson said. "We did that."
Greenberg said freshman forward Kelvin Brown, who did not play four of the past five games for disciplinary reasons and did not dress for the past two, will dress Saturday.