The clock was ticking for the Bulls.
They had mere seconds to avoid tying their worst start in 28 years — and they managed it with a 63-61 victory over Albany before a crowd of 2,712 at the Sun Dome on Tuesday night.
Junior forward Chris Perry’s game-winning dunk wasn’t drawn up, but as he watched the play unfold before him, he couldn’t resist with nine seconds to go.
Initially, point guard Roddy Peters tried to feed the ball from the top of the key to center Jaleel Cousins, who was in the paint. The ball instead deflected and bounced in front of Perry, who rose up to slam it down with authority.
“It was just reaction,” said Perry, who finished with eight points in 19 minutes of playing time after getting into early foul trouble.
“The ball just bounced right in front of me. I took two steps, and that was it.”
Perry said he was going to lay it in at first, but heard Cousins urging him to dunk.
“Once I saw (Perry) catch it, you’ve got to dunk on it,” said Cousins, who recorded his second-consecutive double-double with 13 points and 12 boards.
Then on the other end, Peters intercepted the ball, and Jahmal McMurray got the foul. McMurray, a freshman guard, made 1-of-2 from the line, and a timeout was called with 2.4 seconds remaining.
Albany’s Hail Mary heave at the buzzer missed wide, and the arena erupted in celebration.
“This game was an eye-opener for us because we tried to fight the whole time, and we saw what it got us,” Cousins said. “I’m glad it was a tough game for us, because it shows us (how) to keep fighting, and you’ll get rewarded in the end.”
In a game that featured 10 lead changes and 10 ties, the Bulls (1-4) came away with their first win of the regular season.
The Bulls used their size to score 42 points in the paint, but struggled again from 3-point range, making just 1-of-11. The lone basket from beyond the arc by Angel Nunez (16 points, four rebounds) in the second half was the team’s first since a loss to George Washington on Thursday.
USF shot 44 percent (26-of-59) from the floor, holding Albany (2-3) to 37 percent.
Albany guard Evan Singletary was one of three Great Danes to score in double figures with a team-high 14 points.
“They grew up,” said coach Orlando Antigua, who will face his previous school in No. 1 Kentucky on Friday in Miami.
“They stayed within the system. They didn’t break away from what we were trying to do.”