USF men’s basketball rallied back from a double-digit halftime deficit to force overtime and fight off a gritty ECU team in a 72-68 victory Sunday at the Yuengling Center.
The victory gave USF its fifth straight win, improving the Bulls’ record to 17-6. This is the first time since the 1990-91 season that the Bulls have had two five-game winning streaks in one season and the first time since the 1991-92 season that they have won five straight conference games.
“I heard how this program was before and over the summer we put in a lot of work,” sophomore forward Mayan Kiir said. “We’re still not where we want to be but it feels good.”
ECU started out hot, hitting its first four threes and going 6-of-7 to jump to an early lead. The first half was a struggle for the Bulls as they were held to just 31 percent shooting. ECU went into halftime with an 11-point lead.
The second half was a different story. The Bulls shot 61 percent while the defense tightened up and allowed just 23 points in the second half.
ECU led for the majority of regulation while the Bulls were slowly clawing their way back into the game. The second half was filled with clutch free throws, tough defensive stops and hustle plays.
In the final moments of regulation, ECU had the ball in a tie game and was looking to win with one last go-ahead bucket. With the clock ticking down, ECU attempted a jump shot that was snuffed out and blocked by the lengthy, 6-foot-9 Kiir.
The team’s free-throw struggles have been a thorn in its side all season. The final six minutes of regulation and the entirety of overtime, the Bulls did not record a basket. Nonetheless, their free-throw shooting kept them in it and ultimately won them the game.
Sophomore guard David Collins contributed 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists. His two free throws in the final seconds of overtime were just enough to give USF the narrow win. This marks Collins’ third straight game with 20 or more points.
“I’ve been playing way better,” Collins said. “But I feel like I’ve been just been playing within our offense, we always have a guy that scores 20, it’s just whoever steps up that night.”
Freshman Michael Durr dominated on the glass with a season-high 13 rebounds. With Alexis Yetna still day-to-day, Kiir, not normally in the starting lineup, got the starting nod and was able to contribute with 13 points, another season-high. Laquincy Rideau also came up big, hitting pressure free throws down the stretch to force overtime.
USF’s next game is on the road Wednesday against rival UCF at 7 p.m.
“As a program, we need to embrace that (rivalry),” coach Brian Gregory said. “I’m not sure it has been, I never got that feel. I know it’s important to them, We got to make it important to us…That’s a game that means a little bit more.”