TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Victor Rudd’s night couldn’t have started worse or ended better for South Florida.
The 6-foot-8 transfer from Arizona State scored all of his 24 points in the second half, heeding the advice of teammates to remain aggressive and leading the Bulls to a 64-49 victory over St. John’s on Wednesday night.
“They told me my shot was going to fall,” the sophomore said. “I felt like it wasn’t ever going to go in. But when I got back out in the second half, I made every shot in warm-ups. So I felt good to get my first shot off — and it going in, it gave me a lot of confidence.”
Jawanza Poland added 16 points off the bench for the Bulls (11-8, 4-2 Big East), who used a 13-2 run that began just before halftime to open a 15-point lead and cruise to their fourth win in five games.
Moe Harkless scored 12 and God’sgift Achiuwa had 11 points for St. John’s (8-10, 2-5), which trailed by as many as 21 in the second half.
The loss was the third straight and fifth in six games for St. John’s, which starts four freshmen and has played much of this season without coach Steve Lavin on the bench. Mike Dunlap is acting head coach while Lavin continues to recover from prostate cancer surgery performed on Oct. 6.
“We’re on a journey to teach these guys how to play on the road,” Dunlap said. “Our two pups, both Moe Harkless and D’Angelo (Harrison), are wonderful to coach, but they’re learning and teething and finding out what the road in the Big East is all about. They’ve got to learn that this is a hard, hard conference.”
USF, which overcame a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes to knock Seton Hall out of the Top 25 last week, surpassed its victory total for all of last season — both in the Big East and overall.
Defense has been the key to USF’s surprising start in conference play. The Bulls don’t have a single player ranked among the league’s Top 30 scorers but they are allowing a league-low 58 points per game. They’ve been especially impressive against Big East competition, holding five of six opponents– Connecticut, Villanova, Notre Dame, Seton Hall and now St. John’s — at least 10 points below their season scoring average.
“Our defense has really been a staple for us,” USF coach Stan Heath said.
Wednesday’s victory stopped a six-game skid in a series St.John’s leads 6-2. USF hadn’t beaten the Red Storm since entering the Big East in 2005, and the Bulls’ only previous win came on March 16, 1995, in the NIT.
St. John’s shot 35 percent in the opening half and 40 percent for the game. The Red Storm never recovered from being outscored 9-0 during a six-minute stretch between taking a 15-13 lead and falling behind by seven.
Poland’s 3-pointer put USF up 29-22 at halftime — and the Bulls had yet to get any points from Rudd or leading scorer Augustus Gilchrist.
Gilchrist, the only player on USF’s roster averaging double figures at just under 11 points per game, made two free throws for his first points of the night to begin the 10-2 surge that expanded the lead to 41-26 three minutes into the second half. The closest St. John’s got after that was 11.
Rudd, averaging 8.3 points, missed all five of his shots in the first half. He was 8 of 10 after halftime, including five 3 pointers and a couple of crowd-pleasing dunks while the Bulls were building the lead to 21 with just under five minutes to go.
“He goes from a goose egg in the first half to 24,” Heath said. “That was pretty impressive, and some pretty impressive plays that he made out there as well. He did a great job of being aggressive and not just settling for 3s, but he got those as well. And his teammates did a good job of finding him.”
Poland scored 12 in helping USF’s reserves outscore the St. John’s bench 20-2 in the opening half. He finished 6 of 11 from the field and made both of his free throws.
Phil Greene joined Harkless and Achiuwa in double figures for St. John’s with 10 points.
“We just didn’t come out and get the job done today, for whatever reason,” Red Storm reserve Malik Stith said. “We didn’t even, in my opinion, play as hard as we can. I just feel like we’ve got to a find a way to turn it around.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)