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Men’s basketball drops overtime thriller

The USF men’s basketball team hobbled into this game and left still limping.

USF (2-1), shorthanded and inexperienced, fell to Florida International University 69-64 in a double-overtime loss Tuesday in Miami.

With three players fouled out, the situation became so desperate for the Bulls that Collin Dennis, who was doubtful at tip-off due to an Achilles tendon injury, was put into the game during the second overtime.

Barely able to run, Dennis missed a three-pointer in the waning seconds of the second overtime that would have tied the game. USF missed all five of its three-point attempts in the overtime periods, helping to hand FIU its first win over USF in the teams’ last eight meetings.

“Obviously, foul trouble was an issue,” said coach Robert McCullum, adding that the team’s trainers approved Dennis’ return to the court. “We just felt that he was our best option.”

The Bulls led by 11 with eight minutes to go in the second half, but a furious FIU comeback erased the lead and culminated with Elvis Lora’s game-tying three-pointer with seven seconds remaining.

McCullum said he instructed his players to foul before FIU could get a three-pointer off, forcing the Golden Panthers to make the first free throw, miss the second on purpose, get the rebound and score again just to tie the game.

“It was just a breakdown, but one particular play didn’t cost us the game,” said McCullum, whose team went 0-3 from the free throw line during the two overtime periods and finished 10-20 for the game.

Then, in the first overtime, it was point guard Chris Capko’s turn. With seven seconds left and USF down by two, Capko took the ball down the court and hit a jumper to send the Bulls into their first double-overtime game in four seasons.

Capko, who saw almost no action last season, finished with 10 points, nine assists and played a game-high 49 minutes, the fourth-most in program history.

“He played well; it was really his best game,” McCullum said. “He really grew up tonight. Anytime you lose a game, you look for positives, stuff you can build on, and I think his play is something we can build on.”

USF lost its starting point guard before the season started, and Dennis, one of only three returners who saw significant playing time last season, went down in the first game.

“On one hand, you could say (a double-overtime game) was the last thing we needed, but as disappointed as we are, hopefully we’ll learn from this experience,” McCullum said. “With injuries and inexperience, all those things combined, we still had an opportunity to win the game.”