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Rebounds give Bulls the edge they need

USF's big men are key to a second-half surge as the Bulls pull away from East Carolina.

By BY NATHAN SUMMERS, Special to the Times
Published December 10, 2006


GREENVILLE, N.C. - USF saved all its energy for the second half Saturday night, using the size and might of its frontcourt to dominate East Carolina 65-52.

After struggling to find the bottom of the basket for most of the first half, the Bulls (6-1) tattooed ECU to the glass for much of the second, running up a 51-28 advantage in rebounding.

Of those 51, 32 landed in the hands of the Bulls' three big men.

Melvin Buckley (20 points, eight rebounds), McHugh Mattis (nine, 14) and Aris Williams (nine, 10) surged after intermission, as the Bulls led by as much as 11 before withstanding a couple of Pirate runs.

ECU (4-4) couldn't get closer than four as USF began drawing the Pirates inside, kicking the ball to open players on the perimeter and dominating the backboards.

"It's new, I wish I could say it wasn't new but it is," USF coach Robert McCullum said of his team's rebounding edge. "I felt the (second-half) difference came when, after the first media timeout, we went from man (defense) to a matchup zone."

Buckley converted one of his four 3-pointers with 10:22 to play to boost the lead to 46-39, and Chris Capko added another a minute later to make it 49-41.

"The big thing was he was able to knock down a shot early in the game," McCullum said of Buckley, who hit 50 percent of his 3-pointers after McCullum said he struggled the previous three games. "There is nothing like confidence. His threat is his ability to shoot 3s. When he knocks one down early, it tends to carry over."

The Bulls weathered a battle of suspect shooting in the first half, using a 6-0 run with four minutes left for a 28-23 edge at the break.

While USF boosted its shooting percentage to 38 percent by the half, ECU was headed south at 29 percent, hitting just 9 of 31 attempts.

Mattis - who was held 10 points below his Big East-leading scoring average - and Buckley combined for 15 first-half points and 11 rebounds, part of a 26-12 edge for USF on the boards.

Adamu Saaka drove the lane with 3:44 left in the half to give USF its biggest lead at 26-20. Mattis then leaned into two defenders for a baseline layup that gave USF a five-point halftime cushion.