TAMPA, Fla. — In a non-conference season that featured losses to Elon, Florida Atlantic, and Northern Illinois, the South Florida Bulls had one final chance to head to American Athletic Conference play over .500.
They had no problem doing so.
Propelled by 59.3 percent shooting in the first half, South Florida quickly ran out to a double-digit lead in route to a dominant 81-53 rout of the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens.
“We got a lot of stuff going on right now with the whole Jahmal thing,” said South Florida junior Geno Thorpe of the days prior. “It’s been a positive mood. We are just trying to move forward and keep the train pushing.”
Immediately, the Bulls exploited the lack of height in their opponent’s frontcourt. The first two possessions went directly to the paint through Luis Santos and Bo Zeigler. Both capitalized and made their respective field goals.
“That was our original plan coming into the game, to get the ball inside and then work from the inside out,” Thorpe said.
The Blue Hens struggled throughout. In the first four-plus minutes, Delaware was 1-for-5 with two turnovers.
South Florida proceeded to flex their muscles from outside. Freshman Michael Bibby scored all of his five points and Geno Thrope chipped in two to run the Bulls out to a 13-2 advantage.
Thanks to a lift from freshman Ryan Daly, the Blue Hens quickly flew back within single-digits. Furthermore, a Devonte Pickett three-pointer with 13:15 remaining cut the once mighty margin to six, 19-13.
Two nights earlier, South Florida squandered an early eight-point lead with scoring droughts.
This evening, nothing could stop the ball from falling through the basket.
“We tried to come out with a better start [and] more intensity,” said Thorpe as the difference between Tuesday and Thursday. “It started with defending the ball and rebounding, and once we got off on a role, we rode the wave.”
Engaged in an offensive battle, the Bulls kept control and a multi-possession lead. Junior Jake Bodway, similar to Delaware’s Daly, supplied a breath of fresh air, scoring seven points in a six-minute span.
Bodway’s last basket, a jumper with 6:08 left, helped South Florida to a 12-point advantage. The Blue Hens would never come any closer.
The Bulls continued to put points on the board, enjoying a 43-28 lead going into halftime.
Moments into the second half, South Florida true freshman Malik Fitts upped the lead to twenty, 51-31.
While Delaware’s Daly tried to single-handedly will a comeback, his 7-2 personal spurt was erased by a 10-0 Bulls’ response.
South Florida possessed their biggest lead, 79-50, thanks to a pair of made free throws from Tulio Da Silva.
Tampa native and Blue Hens forward Chivarsky Corbett returned to his hometown in style. The redshirt sophomore persevered through two fouls in the opening minutes to come within two rebounds of a double-double, 15 points and 8 rebounds. Freshman Ryan Daly stuffed the stat-sheet with 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists.
For South Florida, 8 Bulls finished with five points or more. Tulio Da Silva and Geno Thorpe both scored 18 points apiece. For the redshirt freshman Da Silva, his point total was a career-high. He also had 8 rebounds.
Senior Bo Zeigler caused the crowd to erupt on multiple occasions. In addition, he scored 10 points and grabbed 4 rebounds. Malik Fitts chipped in 7 points and 7 rebounds.
6-6 Delaware returns home to the Bob Carpenter Center for a showdown with MAAC contender Iona.
6-5 South Florida has concluded their non-conference schedule. The Bulls open up conference play with a road matchup versus East Carolina.
“We are going to take each opportunity to go out and get 1 percent better,” said South Florida head coach Orlando Antigua of the start of AAC play. “[We] try not to make excuses. We deal with reality. We try to roll up our sleeves and work every day just to try to get a little bit better.”
– P. Wesner