They trailed late into regulation and never led in the first overtime period, but somehow the Bulls tied it up and sent the game into double overtime.
After eight ties, six lead changes and 10 extra minutes, the men’s basketball team rallied to beat Stetson (2-4) 77-72 in front of 2,874 fans at the Sun Dome on Monday night.
USF (4-0) made 28 of 35 free throw attempts, including two by freshman Solomon Bozeman to tie the game and send it to the first overtime period. Bozeman then went on to seal the victory with the final two points of the game – his 14th and 15th free throws of the night.
After making his 13th free throw of the game to give the Bulls a 75-72 lead with eight seconds left in the game, Bozeman finally missed one – his only failed attempt in his last 29.
“It was a lot of pressure, but my dad is a coach,” said Bozeman, who finished the game with 17 points and seven rebounds. “Being a coach’s son, he always tells me that big-time players step up in big-time situations, so I just knew I had to knock down my free throws so we could get the win.”
After the game coach Robert McCullum said he wasn’t surprised with the freshman’s ability to make free throws under pressure. McCullum also reiterated that Bozeman will lead USF this season in free throw shooting.
“I’ve always been a good free throw shooter,” Bozeman said. “I worked with this guy in Arkansas who was called the ‘Free Throw Doctor,’ and he told me this year he wanted me to come in and shoot 98 percent from the free throw line.”
The Bulls were up by as many as eight points in the first half, but a 14-6 Hatter rally to close out the half – along with 14 USF turnovers – led to a 29-29 tie at the break.
USF started the second half with two quick field goals, but Stetson responded and took the lead with 9:37 left in the second half after a steal and a lay-up by Hatter guard Kris Thomas.
The Bulls tied the game three times after Stetson took the lead, and USF didn’t regain the lead until Bozeman made consecutive free throws to open the second overtime.
The Hatters battled back, but senior Melvin Buckley made consecutive free throws with 2:15 left in the second overtime to give USF the game’s final lead change. Buckley finished the game tying his career high with 29 points.
“Everyone needs close ballgames, and during the course of the year you’re going to have those,” McCullum said. “I think coaches want those in the pre-conference schedule. It’s difficult to say this game is going to be one of those games or that game is going to be one of those games.”
The Bulls finished with 25 turnovers – 10.7 more than their average prior to Monday’s game – but out of the seven players who played more than 10 minutes, Bozeman was the only one not to give up a turnover.
“I’m looking at my turnovers, and I’m like ‘Ooh,'” said Buckley, who had a team-high seven giveaways. “He’s got no turnovers, and he’s handling the ball the whole time. Words don’t describe that. That’s intangible.”
Last season USF lost its first of 22 games in a 69-64 double-overtime loss on the road to Florida International – a team the Bulls dominated 79-50 on Nov. 21 this season. Buckley and McCullum both agreed the outcome of Monday’s double-overtime game would’ve been different had it come with last year’s team.
“We wouldn’t have won (tonight’s) game last year,” Buckley said. “That’s just as simple as it is.”