Let me start by saying (and can probably speak for all Bulls fans right now) I. AM. HAPPY. I.AM. MAD. I. AM. CONFUSED. How is that even possible? When I’m telling you only the USF men’s basketball team can do that to a person, I mean it.
The Bulls played below average, against Bethune Cookman – one of the worst teams in college basketball – for the first, like, 36 minutes of the game. But somehow they forced overtime and left the Sun Dome with a 79-73 win.
THE BIGGEST COMEBACK IN THE ORLANDO ANTIGUA ERA. GLORY! But be patient for the ending, because it’s SO much better when you realize how horrendous the beginning and middle were.
“It’s a great lesson for us to be able to learn,” Antigua said. “It could have been a really hard lesson for us to learn on the other side.”
Remember that repeating narrative where USF had really impressive first halves and then either blew it or came dang near close in the second? Gone. Tonight, the first half was, to put it nicely, hideous.
The Bulls were back on the court for the first time in nine days, and the starting lineup featured three freshmen (Michael Bibby, Tulio Da Silva, Malik Fitts). Notably, it did not include sophomore guards Jahmal McMurray or Troy Holston.
Where was Holston tonight?
I'm told #USF's Troy Holston sustained a left knee injury during practice last week and is listed as day-to-day.— Jeff Odom (@jeffodom) December 13, 2016
This gave Malik Fitts the opportunity to start, and the freshman forward took after Holston nicely, hitting a three in the first possession of the game. So for a minute (literally), things looked great. But then the Wildcats responded with a 7-0 run to take an early 7-3 lead.
Junior center Ruben Guerrero hit two free throws, Fitts drained another three, and McMurray checked in after three minutes to hit a deep three of his own, and USF worked its way up to an 11-9 lead. Sounds like things were looking up, right? Yeah, then Bethune-Cookman went on an 18-4 run. Magnificent.
To add salt to the wound, the Wildcats then hit four straight three-pointers to take the largest lead of the game -- up 19 with five minutes to play until halftime. *insert crying emoji* Junior forward Bo Zeigler ended the Bulls three-minute scoring drought, part of his 6-for-6 shooting effort in the first half.
“I just think we were trying to rush,” Zeigler said. “We saw the zone, we saw a lot of opportunities we could take. We weren’t really thinking, we were turning the ball over, not getting back in transition. They got some early transition points that got us in the hole.”
USF held the Wildcats scoreless for the last three minutes of the half (remember that for later) and cut the lead to 44-31. But the first half stats were terrible. Take a look for yourself, especially the USF turnovers, points B-CU got off those turnovers, their fast break points, etc.
“One of the things I keep challenging our guys about is putting together 40 minutes,” Antigua said. “Right now we’re putting together a half a game. In order for us to continue to progress we’ve got to play a full 40 minutes a game. And to play with that kind of intensity, focus, and heart for the entire game.“
OK SO LETS JUST SKIP THE ENTIRE FIRST 16 MINUTES OF THE SECOND HALF BECAUSE THEY WERE HORRIBLE AND THE FINAL FOUR MINUTES WERE ABSOLUTELY GLORIOUS. I’ll stop yelling now.
Here’s a play-by-play of actual good basketball by USF, and paralleled emotions.
4:17: Bulls down 66-53. Eyes rolling.
3:33: Slam by Zeigler. Sun Dome wylin’! OK, come through. At least something decent happened. 66-55.
2:44: Bo back at it with a layup to cut it to 66-57. Well, at least Bo’s having a nice night.
1:43: Da Silva lays it in. Wait … do we have a chance? 66-59.
1:08: Jahmal drains a three. Game on!!! 66-62.
0:32: Tulio doin’ Tulio things, gets to the basket! WAIT YES, maybe we DO have a chance. 66-64.
0:11: Jahmal starts driving to the tin to tie the game... but Antigua calls timeout! NOOOOOOOO
0:06: USF regroups, Geno Thorpe gets fouled, and sinks the first free throw. OMG YOU’RE LYING. EVERYBODY IS A LIAR. WHY DO YOU ALL HATE ME. 66-65.
0:06: I LITERALLY DO NOT BELIEVE IT. GENO SINKS THE SECOND FOR THE TIE. SOMEBODY SLAP ME. 66-66.
(ed: Please don’t slap Sandy.)
So yeah, USF scored the final 13 points of regulation … AND JUST LIKE THAT. THE USF BULLS FORCED OVERTIME. Praise.
Overtime started out pretty back and forth, but once it was up to 70-70 the Bulls took over. A jumper by Thorpe, and another trey from McMurray gave USF a five-point lead. Bethune Cookman responded with a layup and a free throw, but Thorpe and McMurray iced the game, sinking a pair of free throws each. IT WAS AS LIT AS, LIKE, 750 PEOPLE CAN GET.
“It’s always good to get a win in overtime but we obviously know we need to get better at certain things on the offensive end,” Zeigler said. “Keeping the ball, taking care of the ball. We have a tough South Carolina team coming up on Saturday ... there’s a lot of stuff to improve on.”
Other notable positive things:
- Bo hit a season-high 20 points, going 10-for-12 from the field. OKAY, BO. WE SEE YOU.
- USF’s bench outscored Bethune-Cookman’s bench 43-5.
- The student section wasn’t completely empty even though finals are over and a majority of USF students have headed home for the holidays…
Okay, yeah, I’m reaching. That’s all I’ve got. Wait, one more.
When USF is in the elite 8, we are going to look back to this game— Tyler Davey (@TylerD_11) December 13, 2016
CONGRATULATIONS, USF. I LOVE YOU. BUT I HATE YOU. (yes, I am a woman, so this is normal besides the fact that I’m also a USF “supporter”)
Anyway, up next: On Saturday USF will host South Carolina for a 1:00 p.m. tipoff. Texas Tech junior transfer Isaiah Manderson, a 6’10” 247-pound forward, will suit up for the first time as a Bull. All eyes on you, Zay.