Bulls rally for 72-68 vic­tory

USF wins fifth straight in con­fer­ence. Post­sea­son thoughts, any­one?

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY JOEY KNIGHT Times Staff Writer

The USF Bulls men’s bas­ket­ball team is on its first five-game win­ning streak in con­fer­ence play since 1992, over­com­ing a 13-point deficit at the half to East Carolina.

TAMPA — USF fans who in­vested in the 2018-19 Bulls are getting some of the great­est value in pro­gram his­tory.

The lat­est ver­sion pos­sesses flair for both the his­toric and dra­matic.

Down by 13 in the first half against Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence door­mat East Carolina, the Bulls ral­lied for a bizarre 72-68 over­time vic­tory Sun­day in the night­cap of a Yuengling Cen­ter dou­ble­header.

USF (17-6, 7-4 AAC) is on its first five-game win­ning streak in con­fer­ence play since 1992, when it was in the Metro. The Bulls have won at least five in a row twice al­ready this sea­son, the first time the pro­gram has achieved such a feat since 1990-91.

“This was our vi­sion the whole time,” said sopho­more David Collins, who came a re­bound shy of a dou­ble dou­ble (21 points, nine re­bounds). “We knew we had peo­ple doubt­ing us, and we just had to go out there and show ev­ery­body that we’re here.”

Collins and Co. head to Or­lando on Wed­nes­day for a show­down with UCF (17-5, 7-3) sud­denly brim­ming with post­sea­son im­pli­ca­tions.

But back to Fe­bru­ary madness.

The Bulls, who en­tered the week­end ranked 329th na­tion­ally in free-throw per­cent­age (63.7 per­cent), won Sun­day’s game at the line.

USF had no field goals in the fi­nal 11 min­utes, but it went 6-for-8 from the line down the stretch in reg­u­la­tion, then hit 10 of 14 (71.4 per­cent) in over­time.

“When we play re­ally well, we can com­pete with just about any­body. If we don’t play well, we’re not gonna beat any­body,” Bulls sec­ondyear coach Brian Gre­gory said.

“What we did (Sun­day) was some­where in the mid­dle, and then we’ve got to fig­ure out a way to win it. And that’s what our guys did. Our guys fig­ured out a way to win that game.”

Ini­tially, the Pirates (9-14, 2-9) flour­ished from an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent line.

In what would serve as a first-half har­bin­ger, ECU hit its first four 3-point­ers and had

a 10-point lead less than four min­utes into the game.

The Pirates cooled off only slightly, shoot­ing nearly 60 per­cent from the floor (and hit­ting 6 of 8 3-point­ers) en route to a 39-28 half­time lead. Guard Shawn Williams led the way, hit­ting all four of his 3s in the open­ing half.

ECU went 0-for-4 from long range the rest of the way. Mean­time, the Bulls dom­i­nated the glass, fin­ish­ing with a 46-22 re­bound ad­van­tage.

But the Pirates never went away, scor­ing eight in a row late in the sec­ond half for a 60-56 lead. They still led by two when Bulls point guard Laquincy Rideau hit two free throws with 12.7 sec­onds re­main­ing, ty­ing the score at 62. On ECU’s en­su­ing pos­ses­sion, Williams’ off­bal­ance jumper was blocked by 6-foot-9 fresh­man Mayan Kiir, forc­ing over­time.

“If Mayan isn’t on the ball, (Williams) gets the shot off,” Gre­gory said. “Mayan’s the only guy in the gym that could get a block on that shot.”

With three play­ers fouled out, East Carolina went 2-for-8 from the floor in over­time. The Bulls never even at­tempted a field goal.

Turns out, they didn’t have to. “Hard work pays off,” Collins said. “We shoot free throws ev­ery day, and we knew they were gonna fall even­tu­ally.”

USF WOMEN FALL: In the opener, fresh­man Elise Pin­zan’s street clothes,” said Bulls coach Jose Fer­nan­dez, who has lost four play­ers (in­clud­ing three starters) to sea­son-end­ing in­juries. “We just strug­gle to make plays down the stretch where we can throw it to some­body that can go get us a bas­ket.” run­ner with a sec­ond re­main­ing fell well short, cap­ping 30 per­cent shoot­ing (18-for-60) for the USF women in a 54-52 loss to Hous­ton.

The Bulls (12-12, 3-7 AAC) led 44-39 early in the fourth be­fore the Cougars (12-11, 5-5) em­barked on an 11-0 run, hold­ing USF to two field goals in the fi­nal 9:23.

“Our two go-to guys are in

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF sopho­more guard David Collins scores a game-high 21 points, these two with author­ity, against con­fer­ence foe East Carolina.

Pho­tos by OCTAVIO JONES | Times

East Carolina guard Shawn Williams tries to get off a win­ning shot at the end of reg­u­la­tion, but USF fresh­man for­ward Mayan Kiir swoops in for the block to send the game into over­time.

Hous­ton for­ward Alyssa Okoene, left, and USF for­ward Ta­mara Hen­shaw bat­tle for a re­bound in the women’s game.

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