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Bulls win a nail-biter

CINCINNATI – Perhaps Brian Swift should consider playing a second sport.

Altron Jackson’s three pointer with 2:15 left to play put South Florida ahead for good, and Swift’s rugby-like recovery of a loose ball as time expired sealed the win as the Bulls advanced, defeating UAB 65-62 in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament Wednesday.

“Altron Jackson made some big shots and did some outstanding things in terms of penetration,” coach Seth Greenberg said. “Brian energized us and I thought it was just a good, solid team win.”

With the Bulls trailing by a point, Jackson peeled off into the left corner and drained the three, regaining a lead that USF held for the majority of the second half.

“That (shot) was just huge,” Greenberg said.

But UAB would not go away. Eric Bush hit the front end of a one-and-one to pull the Blazers within one point, and a made free throw each by Greg Brittian and Jackson put the Bulls ahead 63-60. Eric Batchelor’s basket with 11 seconds left again pulled UAB within one.

“Down the stretch our guys fought hard, we just didn’t shoot the ball well enough to win,” UAB coach Murray Bartow said.Swift, playing in a building four hours from Warrensville where he grew up and explicitly in the game because of his stellar free throw shooting, missed the front end of the one-and-one. Will Campbell grabbed the rebound with nine seconds left, but B.B. Waldon and Swift converged on him and the ball hit the floor.Then came the scrum.

Waldon and Bush dove for the loose ball as Campbell attempted to get possession. Swift then entered the fray and the smallest guy on the floor emerged with the ball as the arena clock showed one second, sealing the win for the Bulls.

“(After I missed) the first thing I had in mind was I had to get the ball back,” Swift said. “B.B. was coming my way so I tried to cut him off. I kind of hit the ball and then B.B. hit it and he dove on the floor. My first instinct was grab the ball.”

The Bulls stayed away from their trademark 1-3-1 defense for most of the game, relying almost exclusively on man-to-man. The result: UAB shot 36 percent from the floor while USF shot 45.

“When you shoot 36 percent, it’s tough to win,” Bartow said. “But I thought our kids put it all out there.”

Jackson paced USF with 19 points, while Waldon scored 12 and was a monster on the glass, grabbing a game-high 13 boards. Greenberg praised the duo for bouncing back after a disheartening 92-75 loss at Southern Miss to close the season.

“It would have been very easy for those kids to just say ‘hey, we gave it our best shot,'” Greenberg said.

“But they didn’t. A lot of it has to do with these two seniors (Jackson and Waldon). They were embarrassed the other night.”

Most of the first half was spent trading baskets, with neither team taking more than a five-point lead. A Will McDonald jumper gave USF a 17-12 advantage at the 8:15 mark. Jackson pushed the lead to 21-16 on a pull-up jump shot in the lane three minutes later.

A 6-0 run, capped by a Will Campbell layup, gave the Blazers their first lead since P.J. Arnold put UAB ahead 9-8 eight minutes in and the teams went into the locker room knotted at 25.

The Bulls trailed by as many as six early in the second half, but twice built a seven-point lead.

“I’m just proud of our team,” Greenberg said. “We got down six and it would have been very easy for us to kind of pitch our tent.”

Then USF inflated the cushion to nine when Kohn found Brittian slicing through the lane, putting the Bulls ahead 54-45 with just under seven minutes to play.

“We got up nine and we got careless,” Greenberg said.

“We weren’t as tough as we needed to be and you’ve got to give (UAB) credit.”

This sliced the deficit to 54-50 a minute later on five straight points from Arnold. Four minutes later, following a dunk from Brittian, Arnold connected on a pair of free throws to give the Blazers a 59-58 lead, setting up Jackson’s clutch three-pointer on the ensuing possession.

The Bulls now have the unenviable task of playing top-seeded Cincinnati on its home floor tonight at 7.

“When we had to, we made plays,” Greenberg said. “We live to play another day.”

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