The men’s basketball team learned Friday that free throws aren’t always free.
Trailing by one, the Bulls rebounded an ill-advised shot attempt by Cleveland State, which sent freshman guard Dominique Jones racing down the court, only to be fouled on a lay-up attempt.
After missing both free throws, the Vikings scored the final points of the game when J’Nathan Bullock converted both attempts from the foul line.
“We simply have to get better. We put ourselves in position to win the game but didn’t get the job done,” first-year coach Stan Heath said. “It’s just not acceptable to me … I hate losing; I don’t sleep much.”
USF (0-1) had an opportunity to tie, regaining possession with 4.6 seconds remaining, but Solomon Bozeman’s half-court attempt went wide.
The Vikings (1-0) regained the lead late in the game, scoring 12 consecutive points to erase an eight-point deficit with 4 1/2
“When we have an opportunity to put a team away, you put them away,” Heath said. “If we learn from this, then all the better. If we don’t, then I won’t be a happy camper.”
Cleveland State nearly handed the game away in the closing seconds. Leading by one with just over 35 seconds remaining, Bullock took a baseline shot that fell short, which led to Jones’ foul shot attempts.
The Bulls were without star center Kentrell Gransberry, who was serving a one-game suspension for playing in a non-sanctioned NCAA summer tournament.
Gransberry was USF’s leading rebounder and scorer last season, and his loss was felt throughout the game. Cleveland State held advantages in points in the paint (34-20), second-chance points (15-9) and rebounds (35-30).
“Does that change the outcome? Probably a good possibility. But you can’t play what-ifs,” Heath said. “We didn’t have him, so we played the guys we had, and we still should’ve won the game, in my opinion.”
Bullock led all scorers with 26 points and made all 13 free throw attempts.
Heath, who was making his USF debut after spending a year at Kent State and the previous five years at Arkansas, saw his team fall behind early and never built a comfortable lead against the Vikings.
The Bulls took their first lead of the game on a reverse lay-up by Jones with 7:37 remaining in the first half.
“We have to play hard for 40 minutes,” said Jesus Verdejo, who had 17 points. “The most important thing is play hard the first five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half. Obviously we didn’t do that. They started off 11-2, and I think that didn’t help us at all at the end of the game.”
Along with the addition of Gransberry, the biggest change the Bulls are hoping for tonight against Buffalo (0-1) is jumping out to an early lead.
“We got off to a slow start and that’s got to change. We’ve got to set the tempo and control the tempo and not be a team that’s trying to play catch up,” Heath said. “When you lose a game by two, you don’t know where those two points come from. Is it the first five minutes of the game? Last five minutes of the game? You don’t know.”