ORLANDO, Fla. – Ruben Guerrero followed his coach’s advice to lead the underdog University of South Florida to an opening round win at the American Athletic Conference tournament on Thursday.
The ninth seeded Bulls beat the East Carolina Pirates 71-66 in a contest that coach Orlando Antigua said was going to be about simplicity.
“Just one game at a time. Do the right things, do the little things. Play good defense, turnovers. We tried to focus on their good players, Tyson, Tejada,” said Guerrero afterwards. “We thought we played really good tonight – even though they played good, we played pretty good too.
After an evenly played first half, the Bulls (8-25) pulled away midway through the second to give themselves an eight-point lead. The Pirates (12-20), however, cut the lead to within three points with 5:23 remaining. It made for an exciting game, but they were not able to pull off the comeback.
Guerrero’s presence, specifically with two blocks and nine rebounds, was important once again for the Bulls. However, he had no problem giving credit to his teammates.
“Anything I can do to help, you know?” he said. “Jamal had a big one too near the end of the first half, Angel too, it was just a team effort.”
Prior to the victory, the Bulls had gone 0-2 in the AAC tournament.
“It was a big win for us, a big win. We haven’t won in a while at a conference tournament, so, you know,” he said. “We got the No. 1 team tomorrow in Temple, and we played them twice already (two losses).
“We gotta come out strong, because they’re going to be tough, so we have to come out strong to win the game.”
After struggling in the first half, Jahmal McMurray made a layup to make it 66-60 with 1:05 remaining to confirm the win for the Bulls.
USF struggled to get their momentum going in the beginning of the game before going on a 9-0 run to take a four-point lead late in the first half. The Pirates began the game on a 7-0 run as South Florida went 0 for 5 including two turnovers.
The University of South Florida Bulls will play No. 1 seed Temple on Friday noon to begin the quarterfinals.