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Jones, Howard cap comeback with clutch play in final seconds

As has been the case for most of their careers, USF guards Chris Howard and Dominique Jones were on the same page when it counted the most.

The two combined late for a game-changing basket that pushed USF (17-11, 7-9) to a 99-93 comeback win over Providence (12-16, 4-12) in front of 5,061 at the Sun Dome on Saturday night.

After Sharaud Curry put the Friars up 93-92 with 17 seconds remaining, Howard quickly inbounded the ball to Jones, who streaked up the court and hit a layup while he was fouled by Curry with 14 seconds left. In frustration, Curry slammed the ball and was called for a technical foul on top of the personal.

Jones stepped up to the line and coolly sunk the free throws, icing USF’s victory.

“Sharaud Curry hit a big shot, a big three … when shots are made like that, everyone just stops. The crowd, they’re just stunned,” said Howard, who was guarding Curry when he hit the 3-pointer to give the Friars the one-point lead. “So at the same time, I was thinking hurry up and get that ball. I know Dominique is on that island ready to go. That’s him in transition … I threw the ball (to him), and he does what he does. In transition, he’s a hard guy to stop. He got fouled, finished the play – the rest is history.”

USF and Providence picked up right where it left off the last time the teams met – with plenty of offense pouring between the two. The Bulls topped the Friars earlier this season in a thrilling 109-105 overtime victory.

The Friars, who now have lost eight consecutive games, scored on their first five possessions and had 25 points before the 11-minute mark. Down 82-73 late in the second half, USF came back and took the lead 91-90 after a left-handed hook shot by sophomore Augustus Gilchrist with 2:11 remaining.

The Bulls shot 57 percent and more than doubled their last offensive output of 49 points at Villanova last week. Four different Bulls had at least 18 points, with Jones’ 26 leading the way.

Howard had 20 on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, and senior Mike Mercer added 18, while Gilchrist had his best game since returning from injury on Feb. 13 against Marquette. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

“It’s really good to see Gilchrist give us good production the way he did,” said USF coach Stan Heath. “He took what the defense gave him.”

Howard and Jones did the same in the closing seconds, lifting a team that had dropped four of its previous five games.

“Chris Howard made a heck of a play,” Heath said. “(He) and Dominique – it seems they’ve been playing together forever … Normally, you might want to call a timeout (to) set up the last play. I said, ‘No, let it go.’ If Dominique got it, it’s one-on-one, possibly one-on-two. Something good was going to happen.”

USF, which is likely headed to the NIT, can still finish .500 in Big East play with wins against DePaul on the road Tuesday and Connecticut at home for senior night Saturday.

“I sure hope this is another start of a run,” Heath said. “You just learn so many different things playing in this league. You better throw all the records out the window.”