With 1.82 seconds left on the clock Saturday night, UCF senior guard Isaiah Sykes drove into the lane against USF and sunk a difficult lay-up, giving the Knights a
one-point lead. Silence filled the Sun Dome as the scoreboard read 75-74.
“We were supposed to trap that ball screen,” USF senior forward Victor Rudd said. “We made a mental mistake and we didn’t do what we were supposed to do”.
Then, in a wave of desperation, USF senior guard Martino Brock looked to seal a much-needed win over in-state rival UCF with a long-range
3-pointer, only to see his shot take a disheartening bounce off the rim.
This ending mirrored a game played just a week and a half ago in Orlando, which went into overtime and came down to a defensive stop by USF freshman center John Egbunu, which earned USF a 79-78 win.
But this time it was the Knights (10-13) with the last-second heroics, using the same designed play they had failed to execute at their last meeting.
“(Egbunu) got a big block to save the game last time, and it just didn’t go our way this time,” Rudd said.
USF (12-14) was led by seniors Brock and Rudd, who said they came out with a sense of urgency that ignited the team early on in the game.
Each recorded 21 points and came up big toward the end of the game – sinking three key foul shots in the last two minutes. The two have tried to carry the team through this rough stretch, but they continue to come up short.
Coming off the bench has been an adjustment for Brock, who was moved out of the regular starting lineup. Brock has averaged 14.7 points over the last four games, a consistency that has been hard for USF coach Stan Heath to find.
“When I come off the bench, I try to add to the game and bring (the team) to another level,” Brock said. “I always play with confidence. (But) coming off the bench it’s a different mindset.”
USF appeared to have a different mindset regarding 3-pointers on Saturday, which is virtually nonexistent in most games, shooting 6-for-17.
USF had four different players knocking down threes as the Bulls shot 35.3 percent from beyond the arc – not an impressive number, but far over their 351st-ranked season average of 25.1 percent.
It has been a point of weakness for much of the season, but with UCF’s defenders daring the Bulls to shoot, USF called its bluff and made four 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of action, but the Bulls would end up going 4-for-10 in the half.
After a demoralizing 43-point loss to UConn, Heath and his team were thrown on their heels and forced to re-evaluate their season going forward.
The Bulls have now fallen to 2-10 in the conference as the window for a sixth seed in the AAC tournament dwindles.
USF decided not to watch film of the blowout loss, but Heath was encouraged going forward by the Bulls’ response against the Knights.
“Hopefully this is encouraging to our fans,” Heath said. “I’m sure they were worried about if the guys were still going to fight and hopefully tonight answered those questions.”
The Bulls travel to No. 13 Louisville Tuesday night.