Too many times last season, free throws cost the USF men’s basketball team games. Sunday, they helped to seal one.Altron Jackson poured in 22 points and Greg Brittian’s free throws down the stretch locked up the University Hoops Classic Championship as the Bulls (4-0) downed Pittsburgh 69-63 in Moon Township, Penn.
“I thought we showed some toughness down the stretch,” coach Seth Greenberg said. “Altron was just magnificent in the first half and I thought Greg Brittian really gave us good, solid minutes and made free throws which gave us a chance to win the game.”
Jackson, one of three Bulls in double figures, earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Guard Reggie Kohn, who drained five threes, finished with 18 points and five assists on his way to a spot on the all-tournament team.
“(This win) is huge,” Kohn said. “It gives us a 4-0 start (and) it gives us the confidence we need.”
Although USF forced only four turnovers, the Bulls’ stingy defense held Pittsburgh to 34 percent from the floor, including a paltry 8-of-31 from behind the three-point arc.
“Reggie Kohn, how about him? I mean, (he hit) big shot after big shot,” Greenberg said.
USF led 38-27 at halftime and stretched the advantage to 13 when Brian Swift converted a free throw after being fouled on a made three-pointer. Minutes later, Pittsburgh responded with a 9-0 run and trimmed the USF lead to 1 following a three-pointer from Julius Page. But just when it seemed the Panthers had regained the momentum, Kohn pushed the ball up the floor on the ensuing possession and answered with a three of his own to put the Bulls ahead 62-57 with a little more than three minutes remaining.
“They didn’t stop the ball and left me alone,” Kohn said of the shot. “The point guard who picks me up had to get back and help out down low because our guys ran the floor.”
Donatas Zavackas then missed a three-pointer with Pitt trailing 67-63, and the rebound was corralled by Brittian, who finished with seven boards. The junior forward was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game with 30 seconds to play, sealing the victory for the Bulls.
“(I concentrated on) just putting them in (and) staying focused with all the crowd getting into it,” Brittian said.
The Bulls opened the tournament Friday with an 82-55 victory against Robert Morris. Jackson paced USF with 17 points and guard Jimmy Baxter made the most of his 10 minutes of action, scoring a career-high 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. Waldon recorded his second double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) of the season and Brittian chipped in with nine points. Greenberg said he was happy with the Bulls’ ball movement and the way they executed their offense.
“What I was most pleased with was that after we gained control of the game that we were still able to execute in terms of being unselfish,” Greenberg said. “We made the extra pass and scored baskets within our offense.”
USF reached the championship game after defeating Hofstra 79-60 Saturday. Waldon scored 20 points and finished one rebound shy of his third straight double-double, while Jackson added 16 as the Bulls broke open a 34-32 game with a 13-0 run to start the second half.
- Brandon Wright covers men’s basketball and can be reached at email@example.com