As the buzzer sounded, USF mens basketball coach Stan Heath rubbed his eyebrows. Players hung their heads as they returned to their chairs on the side of the court while the Herd of Thunder band played the alma mater.
Until the second half of the game against Western Michigan on Sunday, the Bulls were on a winning streak over the weekend. But after a 58-53 loss to the Broncos following a close second half in which the sparsely populated Sun Dome held their breaths to see the outcome of what could have been anyones game, the Bulls saw a glimpse of defeat at the end of the USF Invitational.
After a 78-59 victory over Maryland Eastern Shore on Friday and a 68-50 win over Loyola-Chicago on Saturday, the team entered the court Sunday with more confidence in their defense.
Junior forward Victor Rudd led in early games with eight defensive rebounds against Loyola-Chicago and five against Maryland Eastern Shore, while sophomore point guard Anthony Collins, whose commanding and versatile presence on the court at the center of several clean offensive plays led him to win the Invitational most valuable player award, led Sundays game with seven defensive rebounds.
The energy and intensity on the defensive end was very strong, Heath said in a press release after Saturdays game.
But when the Bulls returned to the court after halftime with a 36-34 lead over Western Michigan, they saw their lead slowly slip away.
Collins and senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who were named to the Invitationals All Tournament team, played a total of 36 and 39 minutes in Sundays game, respectively, but the pairs offensive prowess was not enough to outscore the Broncos.
The two, with Rudd, set up clean plays but several shots were blocked or did not go through.
With a little more than nine minutes in the game remaining, senior guard Shaun Noriega scored a 3-pointer the only success of 10 attempted in the second half coming back seconds later with a 2-pointer and a free throw, tipping the score in the Bulls favor, 46-45.
But the minute was fleeting, and the Bulls were soon superseded by Western Michigan, which solidified the lead to four points in the last minute of play.
Its a tough break for us, Heath said. We just have to continue to work and get better.
The Bulls will play Bradley University at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the Sun Dome.