NASHVILLE, Tenn. It all ended so quickly.
After a miraculous run for a team picked to finish 14th in the Big East, the USF mens basketball teams season is over.
USF had been in trouble for a few minutes, but a left-handed floater by Ohios D.J. Cooper with 1:34 left in the game and no time left on the shot clock sent the Bulls home with a 62-56 loss Sunday in Nashville, Tenn.
In the cutthroat, win-or-go-home environment of NCAA Tournament basketball, the Bulls luck ran out a few minutes early.
This is going to sting, coach Stan Heath said. Those guys are crying in the locker room. Im not real happy right now, and, you know, well use this as fuel.
The Bulls had been playing well against the 13th-seeded Bobcats and seemed to be on their way to the programs first Sweet Sixteen berth, until a pair of five-point possessions in the second half helped Ohio get its foot in the door.
USF led 31-26 just after the second half started when forward Victor Rudd Jr. was whistled for an intentional foul for grabbing Walter Offutts jersey, giving the Bobcats two free-throws and the ball.
Just seconds later, it was 31-31, courtesy of free-throws from Offutt, who also made a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
Yet the Bulls showed resiliency, bouncing back to grow the lead to five points again on an alley-oop from Anthony Collins to Jawanza Poland that made the score 42-37 with 9:26 left.
After finishing the dunk, Poland hung on the rim just a bit too long, drawing a technical foul.
We pride ourselves in not beating ourselves and momentum plays are momentum plays, Heath said. Were a team that really feeds off momentum and normally we get a dunk like (Polands) and it energizes our defense and we get excited and all of a sudden we might get four, five, six, 10 stops in a row. You know, when the play happened, that way, I think it took a little bit of fuel away from us, but, you know, its part of the game. We just had to regroup.
Just as Offutt had done earlier in the half, Nick Kellogg made the free throws and drained a 3-pointer to pull the Bobcats even.
From there, Cooper took over, assisting on three baskets and scoring seven of his 19 points to help the Bobcats advance.
USF just couldnt rally and ran out of time trying.
In the final 7:43, after Ohio took the lead for good, USF missed four free throws, including two front-ends that could have earned the Bulls a second shot. The Bulls only missed five free throws all night, but the misses came at crucial times.
Freshman point guard Anthony Collins said missed free throws and the technical on Polands dunk ultimately added up within the game.
You know, free throws, we practice them all the time, but, you know, just didnt go in for us, and the technical, I guess the ref felt Jawanza held onto the rim, he said. We cant control that. We just tried to go back out there and compete. It didnt end the way we wanted to.
When the Bulls needed to score points in a hurry, they couldnt look to the 3-point line, where they finished 2-of-15 on the night.
Well, unfortunately, Im one of those guys that looks in the mirror and says, What could I have done better? … And so Im just kind of kicking myself a little bit, Heath said. I dont know if I prepared them well enough or maybe did a little bit too much the day before because we werent quite didnt quite have the zip.
The best season in USF basketball history ended in the round of 32 on Sunday night at the Bridgestone Arena. There are no more practices and no more games.
Further in the tournament than USF had ever been before, the Bulls were playing on borrowed time, until it ran out.
Well, this will sting with me until I die, Heath said with a smile and chuckle.