It wasn’t pretty, but one can argue overtime wins are never perfect. The Bulls didn’t need perfect. They just needed it to work, and in the end, it got the job done.
To add the icing on the cake, USF took down a top-10 ranked team for the first time in program history along the way.
It was downright ugly at times, with 48 personal fouls on the court, but the Bulls (2-1) toppled No. 6 Mississippi State (2-1) in a 67-63 overtime win on Saturday at the Yuengling Center.
“We’ve had a lot of top-25 wins, but we’ve never had a top-five, top-10 win and I’m just happy for our players,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “I’ve coached a lot of games, but this is something that for them, they’re going to remember for the rest of your life.”
After trading blows with the Bulldogs in the first few minutes, USF allowed a 7-0 Mississippi State run in the final minutes of the first quarter to take a 19-11 lead. Like the Bulls’ start, one of their main shooters also struggled.
Guard Elisa Pinzan shot 1-of-4 from the field, scoring two points through the first 10 minutes. After a poor performance against Baylor on Tuesday, when she went 1-of-10, Pinzan knew she wanted to make this game count.
“At the beginning of the shoot around today, I went to coach and I’m like, ‘I got you tonight, I got the double-double,'” Pinzan said.
She followed through on her promise, and also had herself a triple-double. Pinzan finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
After the Baylor game, Pinzan and the team were upset given the nature of how it finished. She knew the Bulls would have to lock in if they were going to make it work.
“We needed to do a great job in defense, and we worked on little details that we did wrong against Baylor,” she said.
For Mississippi State, the tempo was set early with a high pressing defense, which was why USF struggled in the first quarter. Making a quick adjustment the following quarter was what allowed the Bulls to score 25 points.
“We knew that they were going to press and press and press us a lot, especially wings, and that’s what we work through the week,” Pinzan said. “At the beginning, we [sped] up a little bit, that’s just not what we wanted, but then we understood that we needed to play our game, and that’s what we had done.”
The Bulls had dealt with a significant size advantage, as seven Bulldogs were 6 feet or taller. The Bulls had a rebounding advantage in the second half, 24-19 and limited Mississippi State to six offensive rebounds.
Forward Bethy Mununga led the way with 12 rebounds. Taking advantage of that mismatch was key, she said.
“The plan is always the same, help the post players inside because we were scared to be in foul trouble,” Mununga said. “At times we were still disadvantaged because of the size, but I think Shae [Leverett] and I, and all the post players … we worked our a** off.”
That seemed to be the name of the game in the final few minutes, holding on until the end, pushing for a lead and finishing off the game. The Bulls traded blows in the fourth quarter until the clock stopped at 60-60. In overtime, where there was an abundance of trips to the line and only one basket from USF’s Leverett, four free throws, two from Mununga and two from Pinzan, sealed the deal.
It wasn’t a glamorous ending, but it got the job done. It just took a little grit to finish it out, Fernandez said.
“When you have adversity, true terror comes out,” he said. “I’m just happy for them.