Freshman Dominique Jones connected on the first and last shots from the field and seemingly scored all the points in between for the Bulls on Saturday.
The guard’s breakout performance propelled USF to a 75-67 victory over Central Florida, its fifth straight win of the season.
Jones had scored in the double figures in six of the Bulls’ seven contests this year, but never had more than 17 points. During pregame warm-ups, the 6-foot-4-inch Jones said he felt more comfortable shooting the ball. And that led to a season-high 30 points.
“(Saturday) in shoot-around I was real comfortable with my three-point shot,” said Jones, who finished 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. “I just found a good rhythm and was shooting with my fingertips and that worked real well.”
It was the highest individual effort since James Holmes scored 35 in an overtime victory against Seton Hall on Jan. 20, 2005.
The biggest concern for first-year coach Stan Heath about Jones is trying to keep him humble.
“As long as he doesn’t read the paper, I’ll feel good about it,” Heath said. “I don’t want him to get a big head.”
Every point from Jones was needed as the Bulls (5-3) never led by more than six until 21 seconds remained in the contest.
Neither team led by more than eight at any point in the contest, and the game was tied 10 times.
With 43 seconds remaining and USF leading 70-67, a three-point attempt by UCF’s Dave Noel fell short. The Bulls found Jones streaking down the court for an easy fast break lay-up to put the game out of reach.
The five-point advantage led the 4,031 fans at the Sun Dome to chant “Just like football” as the Bulls improved to 18-4 all-time against the Knights.
Guard Jermaine Taylor led UCF (4-3) with 20 points and was one of four Knights to score in double figures.
Tony Davis, a 6-foot-7-inch forward, almost had a triple-double for UCF with 10 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks.
After committing 11 turnovers and going into the half with a one-point lead, the Bulls reduced their mistakes in the second half (three turnovers) to beat the Knights for the ninth straight time.
USF held the Knights to 30 points in the second half on 38-percent shooting, allowing the late surge for the win. “That’s a quality win for us,” Heath said. “That’s a very good basketball team, so we feel fortunate that we played well and were able to pull it out and play with some poise down the stretch.”
In one of the most physical contests of the season, the Bulls received a brief scare as center Kentrell Gransberry fell and started pounding the floor in pain. The Bulls’ leading rebounder then rose to his feet and jogged off the floor.
Despite twisting his ankle, he returned to the floor and helped USF to a 45-33 rebounding advantage.
Gransberry had his fifth double-double of the year with a season-high 15 rebounds, along with 11 points.
Since joining the Bulls in 2006, Gransberry’s point total was his lowest in a USF win.
“Every night I’m not always going to be the leading scorer,” Gransberry said. “It’s great to know guys like Dominque, Jesus (Verdejo) and Chris (Howard) can pick up the scoring for me.”
With wins over Florida State, Florida International, Florida Atlantic and now UCF, Heath was quick to squash any thoughts of the Bulls being the best team in the state.
“I don’t know if Florida would agree with that,” Heath said. “It’s not necessarily where they’re from, but we’ve won some very important games to get things going.”