In USF’s season-opener, Bulls guard James Holmes hit a free throw with three seconds left to lift the Bulls past Stephen F. Austin 76-75 Saturday at the Sun Dome.
With the score tied at 75, Holmes was fouled while going for a rebound from a Terrence Leather miss.
Holmes missed the second free throw and a last-second half-court heave by SFA was not close.
“It was a tough one but we found a way to close it out,” Leather said. “Stephen F. Austin is a good team.”
Seniors Leather and Brian Swift led the Bulls. Leather scored 20 points and pulled down seven rebounds and Swift scored 19, hitting all five of his three-point attempts.
The only returning starters, Swift and Leather led the Bulls past the feisty Southland Conference team in a back-and-forth battle that was tied 12 times and had 10 lead changes.
“We just got to get tough, physically and mentally,” Swift said. “Sometimes things don’t go our way like we planned, but we have to improvise, and mentally we’re not ready to do that yet.”
Led by guard Marcus Clark, SFA was able to keep it close.
“I didn’t have any thoughts that we’d come out and by them by 20 or 10 or whatever,” coach Robert McCullum said. “And I don’t for any opponent that we play.”
Clark, a junior, scored a game-high 25 points, hitting all ten of his free throw attempts.
“We knew that Marcus Clark was a very good player, he’s everything that he’s advertised to be,” McCullum said. “It was obvious that we had trouble matching up with him. He’s an outstanding player.”
Holmes, who finished with eight points, is still bothered by a sore right shoulder and is wearing a bandage. He started and played 27 minutes.
“I told James during the game I was really disappointed in his play. I told to go back out there and find a way to help our team,” McCullum said. “And after I made those comments to him, I think he took charge and finished a great play in transition and took the ball to the basket, and last but not least, the free throw that was the difference in the game.”
McCullum said the team’s younger players will have to help with the scoring load.
“We need (the younger players) to do that and I’m confident they will,” he said. “We can’t count on Brian Swift going 5-5 behind the line.”
On top of his 19 points, Swift led the Bulls with four assists and played 38 minutes.
“I felt pretty good,” Swift said. “I was feeling it tonight, I kept shooting it and it kept going in.”
Calling it a “coach’s decision,” McCullum didn’t start Leather, who didn’t see action until 15:22 was left in the first half.
“I was feeling dizzy at shoot-around,” Leather said. “I told coach and he didn’t start me.”