Stan Heath and the Bulls quickly turned around their season with a stunning upset victory over Florida State.
Leading 68-67 with the shot clock running down, USF point guard Chris Howard shot an air ball with seven seconds left, almost allowing another win to slip away.
The Seminoles hesitated to bring the ball down court, forcing a wild Toney Douglas three-point attempt that bounced off the backboard, giving USF its most significant win under Stan Heath.
“I bet there’s a lot of happy people in Tampa (and they) like to beat Florida State every now and then, huh?” Heath said. “What a gutsy performance, I thought we kept our poise and played pretty well down the end. It wasn’t pretty, but it doesn’t matter as long as you get the ‘W’ at the end.”
Offensively the Bulls were effective from the field, .537 field goal percentage, and were able to keep their lead with a season high 11 three-pointers on 18 attempts in the finale of the Glenn Wilkes Classic in Daytona Beach.
Kentrell Gransberry led all scorers with 21 points and eight rebounds as USF (2-3) knocked off an opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference for the second consecutive season. The Bulls defeated Wake Forest 75-67 at the St. Pete Times Forum last December.
The key for the Bulls was keeping Florida State (3-2) away from the free throw line. Coming into the contest, the Seminoles were shooting a mind boggling 89 percent, but only attempted five free throws Sunday.
“They’re 89 percent shooting and we knew that going into the game,” Heath said. “We just wanted to make them take tough shots. They found some easy ones early but I like the way our team adjusted and you look at the numbers and say it’s not so bad.”
The Bulls led 39-30 at halftime but a 12-3 run by the Seminoles early in the second half briefly gave them a one-point lead until Orane Chin responded with a three-pointer and gave USF the lead for good.
“We’ve got some guys that can make some shots,” Heath said. “When Chris (Howard) and Gransberry are going good for us, we can be a pretty difficult team to play against.”
Saturday when the Heath earned his first victory as a Bull over Florida Atlantic, almost no one saw it.
USF scored over 100 points for the first time since 2002 as it crushed the Owls 100-69 in front of an announced crowd of 359 at the Ocean Center.
“It was good to get a win underneath our belt. The most important thing for me, you want to win, but you want your team to continue to get better,” Heath said. “I do think in this tournament so far we played our best game against Rhode Island, we played better today and hopefully we continue to make that progression as we go forward.”
The Bulls opened the contest with a 30-13 run and the lopsided score allowed eight players over 12 minutes on the court.
“I think it helped a lot. The minutes were spread around today,” Howard said. “Getting out of the gate early was definitely the plan. We wanted to jump on them the early and it worked.”
The tournament started off disappointing as USF dropped the first of the four game series with a 73-70 loss to Cleveland State on Nov. 9.
Friday when the tournament resumed, the Bulls fell to Rhode Island 74-67 and for the first time in over 20 years they began the season 0-3.
The turnaround Saturday and Sunday enabled the Bulls some much needed early season wins before starting Big East Conference play in January.
USF has six days to rest until hosting East Carolina Saturday.
“We’re doing a much better job of taking the ball and we’re shooting the ball well,” Heath said. “Gransberry is playing like the guy we know he can be but we’ve got to clean up a lot of things offensively and defensively. I don’t know anything about ECU but I have about five or six days to get ready for that.”