This might've been USF's last game against Rutgers in a major sport, and it basically summed up every USF-Rutgers game ever. USF came out hot early and established themselves as the more talented team, built a big lead, and promptly collapsed and lost in the final seconds in unceremonious fashion. Somewhere in Sports Curse Heaven there is a whole area devoted to USF-Rutgers, where Maikon Bonani kicks field goals that Amp Hill drops while being called for "illegal forward propulsion." Goodbye forever, Rutgers. I will not miss you in the slightest.
I digress. The big question coming into this game was whether or not the Bulls could carry momentum from their heartbreaker against UConn earlier in the week-- where they actually played quite well-- into today's game. The Bulls have played well on a few occasions during AAC play, but have usually done absolutely nothing to follow up on it. Today they did--in fact, they played one of their best offensive halves of the season. USF shot a downright blistering 57% from the field in the first half, including 3 for 5 from three (!!!). Their ball movement and shot selection was leaps and bounds ahead of where it has been basically all year. Josh Heath channeled his inner Anthony Collins on a couple little floaters in the lane, and Victor Rudd and Zach LeDay were sinking basically any look they wanted en route to helping the Bulls to a 42-32 halftime lead.
Then the second half happened. USF pushed the lead to 15 and looked ready to run away with the game before promptly surrendering an 11-0 run to led the Knights back into the game. Rutgers took the lead a minute or so later, and the game went back and forth until the final whistle. Rudd basically went shot for shot with Rutgers until the final inbounds play of the game, where the Bulls trailed 74-73 with 4.9 seconds left and the ball under the Rutgers basket. Stan Heath called a timeout and apparently drew up the Give The Ball to Victor Rudd as He Runs Away From the Basket play, which unsurprisingly ended with Rudd taking a difficult jumper in the lane that bounced off the rim.
I could devote a paragraph here to how well Rudd played today, and how he's actually been quite good as of late (instead I will devote a parenthetical-- he had 26 points, nine rebounds and drained four threes). But we're far beyond the point where I find solace in pointing out positives in losses, because all they really are at this point are reminders that this team should be playing much, much better than they are. Yes, they gave UConn a good game. Yes, they played a good first half today. This should be the standard, not the exception.
So here we are again, with two games left in the regular season of another pretty terrible year for USF basketball. This team, which showed so much promise early, in now 3-13 in AAC play and will probably have to win a game or two if they want to avoid sharing last place in the conference. On a team with so much talent ("so much" is a relative term here, but still), you have to start looking at the coach.
Do you remember the last two years of the Skip Holtz era? Of course you do. USF found way after way after way to blow games, particularly in crunch time when coaching and execution matter the most. I'm starting to get Holtzian vibes from this basketball team after watching them struggle again and again and again to close in the final minutes. Never before was Stan Heath's lack of anything resembling a functional offense more evident than the last play today, where the best thing he could draw up was handing the ball to Rudd and praying he could make something happen. This team, for the past two years, has essentially been handing the ball to Rudd and praying. I won't pretend to know just how hot Heath's seat is right now, but it's certainly gotten much toastier than any of us could've imagined.