Now That's More Like It: USF Beats Temple

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls top the Owls 82-75, in a game that illustrates one of the reasons we believed in this team going into the season.

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? You could have written one about Musa Abdul-Aleem's experience in the second half of the Temple game.

You're not having a good season shooting the ball. You've lost playing time to Shemiye McLendon, but his injury gave you a start tonight. You're 1-for-6 shooting, you got blocked from behind on a fast break, and you had two ugly unforced turnovers early on. You just missed a three-pointer that would have given your team the lead. Your team's unselfish star, Victor Rudd, is visibly showing his frustration.

Back on defense, you slipped and fell while trying to defend your man, which let your opponent make a three-pointer that pushed their lead to five points. Momentum has turned against your team, the crowd is chuckling at you, and Javontae Hawkins is getting ready to replace you. In the half-court offense, you cut cross-court and receive a pass from Corey Allen. Your defender was held up just enough that you've got an open look for about a quarter of a second.

If you take the three-point shot, turn to Page 75.

If you pass to a teammate, turn to Page 93.

We'll see what he chose later on, but first we must recap the series of events that led to that point.

Regular readers will remember that we were crazy optimistic about USF men's basketball going into this season, despite all predictions to the contrary. The Bulls' first AAC win illustrates one of the reasons we're excited about this team: its depth and flexibility.

At first, the game appeared to be a contrast in styles; Temple is a good three-point shooting team, while USF gets most of its points inside. But the game wasn't decided by who could dictate the game flow. When Temple's long-range shooting went cold, they had little else to lean on. USF found a variety of ways to score, and different players to do the scoring, especially late.

The Bulls were sloppy at the start, with several unforced turnovers in the first five minutes. But Temple couldn't put the hammer down, because they weren't hitting outside shots. Forward Anthony Lee had an excellent game with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and was their only other source of points.

The Owls built a 22-12 lead in the first half, which USF erased on a run that illustrated their more diverse approach:

  • Corey Allen Jr. drives the baseline to score.
  • Musa Abdul-Aleem blocks a shot.
  • Allen gets a look at an open three, but misses.
  • Victor Rudd gets a steal leading to a fast break, then unselfishly dishes to Martino Brock for a lay-up.
  • Temple hits 1 of 2 free throws.
  • Brock feeds John Egbunu in the post. Temple's interior defense is tough, but Brock gets a hand on Egbunu's miss, and draws a foul which lets the possession continue.
  • Rudd gets open for a three from the top of the arc.
  • Temple misses a three. Rudd outworks his man for the defensive rebound.
  • In the half-court offense, Rudd drives the line for a lay-up.
  • Allen draws a charge.
  • Allen feeds Egbunu in the post, who draws a double-team. He puts on a great move, but is well defended by Devontae Watson.
  • Chris Perry blocks a shot from Lee, leading to a fast break.
  • Brock throws a highlight reel alley-oop to Egbunu, who throws it down emphatically to tie the game at 23-23.

You may have noticed a lot of Victor Rudd in that sequence. He was everywhere against Temple, getting rebounds, shooting threes, driving the lane, and handling the ball -- all while remaining within the USF offense, and giving up the ball when that was the right move. He also had to play more minutes at power forward when Chris Perry fouled out early. If any NBA scouts were watching Rudd, they should have been impressed with his performance in this game.

Temple appeared to take control early in the second half, when little-used big man Jimmy McDonnell suddenly became a three-point threat, pushing the Temple lead to ten. They would push it to ten again with 9:20 left in the half. But that's when USF began winning the war of attrition.

Temple didn't have starting point guard Will Cummings for the second half. He ran full-speed into a John Egbunu screen, and was unable to return to the game. This forced Lee, McDonnell, and freshman Josh Brown to play far more minutes than usual, on a team that historically only goes about seven-deep. This would soon become apparent. The sharper, fresher-looking Bulls quickly shaved eight points off the lead, cutting it 66-64 with about 6:30 to play.

That's when Musa Abdul-Aleem faced his difficult choice. He took that shot, and thank goodness he did, because it went down. Even the announcers said "if he didn't make that one, you've got to pull him."

After Temple missed a rushed shot, Abdul-Aleem scored again from beyond the arc, giving USF a 70-69 lead. He missed on USF's next possession (which means he attempted a three-pointer on four straight USF possessions, mind you), but Brock recovered the miss and scored to make the lead 72-69.

And USF protected that lead. Egbunu had some nice plays on both ends of the court: a steal, a key putback against a double-team, and played good defense. Brock got a three-point play. Abdul-Aleem hit two important free throws. But the most decisive shot came from Victor Rudd.

Before the game, I ranted about how opposing teams were throwing soft zones at USF, and that USF needed to find a way to counter that. Look at the defense Temple sets up in the biggest possession of the game:

Usf-temple-zone

That's what having an outside scoring threat -- and a point guard who can penetrate and create (more on that in a second) -- do for you. The defense is in a 1-2-2 zone, trying to take away USF's interior advantage, and prevent Rudd for driving. But they're not packed in the lane knowing full well USF can't shoot over it or drive into it. There's plenty of room for USF players to operate in. Victor Rudd has the ball. What happened?

Usf-temple-zone2

Rudd takes what the defense gives him. Fearing Rudd's drive, his defender gives him too much room, and Rudd sees an opportunity for an open mid-range jumper. He hits it, giving USF a 79-74 lead that would not be challenged.

I haven't talked about Josh Heath yet, but his presence made a big difference in this game. It's not that just he racked up assists (five in the first half), it was how he got them. One was a nice feed to Perry in the low post. Two others were alley-oops. These plays require precision, and a knowledge of where your teammates are going to be. That Heath could execute such plays with his more experienced teammates is encouraging. He also showed good quickness off the dribble, which Temple had to deal with. Reminded me a little of Anddrikk Frazier, when he played for USF.

The Bulls are off this weekend before traveling to SMU on Wednesday, and hosting Cincinnati on Saturday. If Abdul-Aleem can find his shot, and Josh Heath can provide quality minutes at the point, there's still plenty of time for USF to have a great season.

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