Despite a lot of heart in a tough environment, the University of South Florida Bulls were eliminated in the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Thursday night. The University of Connecticut Huskies, behind a career-high 30 point game by senior guard Rodney Purvis, battled their way to a 77-66 victory over the Bulls.
USF started the game with its 15th attempt at a successful starting lineup. UConn started the game on a 9-0 run. After three turnovers in four possessions, a missed dunk, and giving up a steal and layup to Purvis, USF head coach Murry Bartow called timeout.
I (obviously) don’t know what Bartow said to the guys in the huddle, but the Bulls came back in on a 7-0 run and forced three turnovers. Freshman guard Mike Bibby got USF on the board with a nice little spin move. Junior guard Geno Thorpe knocked down the Bulls’ first three pointer of the game. And sophomore forward Luis Santos drained a jumper to cut the Huskies lead to 9-7. And then UConn senior center Amida Brimah ended the Huskies’ scoring drought with a dunk. Sigh.
Sophomore guard Troy Holston hit USF’s second shot from beyond the arc to get the Bulls within one point. AND THEN THE GATES OF HEAVEN OPENED. FRESHMAN FORWARD TULIO DA SILVA KNOCKED DOWN A LONG JUMPER TO TAKE THE LEAD. THIS IS NOT AN ALTERNATIVE FACT.
And after five misses in a row, UConn head coach Kevin Ollie called a timeout.
Purvis came out and drew the foul on Bibby (who didn’t look too pleased) and hit two free throws to take the 13-12 lead. Sophomore forward Steven Enoch hit two more, and Da Silva responded with a pair of his own. Junior center Ruben Guerrero and junior forward Bo Zeigler both layed it in to get USF back on top 18-17! The Huskies answered with three layups of their own to regain the lead on a 6-0 run. GO AWAY.
Thorpe knocked down another three-pointer, and the Bulls, being the obvious underdogs, actually looked like they weren’t ready for the season to be over … contrary to popular belief (mine).
Purvis drew the foul (again) knocked two shots down, and at this point the Huskies were 10-for-10 from the free throw line. Yes, 100 percent efficient.
So Thorpe returned the favor(?) and drew the and-one on an uncharacteristic Purvis error to make it a one point game at 25-24. Purvis made up for his amateur foul on Thorpe on the next posession and drove the ball RIGHT to the rim … with no Bulls in his way. And then he hit one from downtown. Smh.
Junior guard Jake Bodway fouled UConn freshman forward Vance Jackson, turned the ball over, and then capped off the horror with a back-court violation. So even though we’re all pretty much #TeamJake like 99 percent of the time, at this point he had to go.
Over four minutes, the Bulls committed FIVE turnovers while connecting for a whopping ZERO field goals. And the Huskies went on an 8-0 run to grab their largest lead of the game at 39-26. At this point it was okay to stop watching and start looking for half-time snacks (not saying that’s what I did or anything ………) because the only thing you would’ve missed was Holston knocking down an impressive three that didn’t beat the buzzer. Of course lol. UConn held a 42-29 lead behind a 17-4 run, with 13 points and 4 rebounds from Purvis. Thorpe led USF with 11 points and two assists.
Brimah tipped the ball in for the first points of the second half. But Bibby quickly responded with a layup and his first three-pointer of the night (in like … 21 seconds) to force a UConn timeout.
The break seemed to have worked better for the Bulls than the Huskies. Thorpe came out of the timeout to grab a steal AND a dunk *shrugs* … and Bibby hit another, longer, triple to cut the lead to 44-39.
Fast-forward to a Da Silva dunk that cut the lead to three points at 47-50. Looked great until the Huskies responded with one of their own … but here’s the real kicker. After UConn’s responsive dunk, Da Silva literally ran into Santos heading to the other side of the court. And the ball was turned over to the Huskies. And Purvis dunked it. Again.
But thank sweet baby Jesus for Geno because WHAT THE HECK WOULD THE BULLS DO WITHOUT HIM? He hit the three to cut the lead to 54-50. Which is good because UConn led by as much as 15 at one point.
A 7-2 run put the Huskies up 59-52 before Zeigler slammed in a wide open dunk, and on the other end drew the offensive foul to gain possession. OKAY, BYRON! Follow that with a Guerrero dunk to make it a one-possession game. Until Jackson hit a three-pointer and took a six-point lead but whatever.
Thorpe to Bibby to Da Silva for another dunk! And the game was back within five points. Umm raise your hand if you’re surprised Ruben missed an easy field goal to get the game within three ... *crickets*
With four minutes to play, Santos drew the foul and hit two free throws to cut the Bulls’ deficit to three. And then Brimah hit two of his own to regain a 67-62 lead for the Huskies. So annoying.
Also annoying: Thorpe hit another three to get the Bulls within two (OK!), but then fouled out with two minutes to play (NOT OK!) ... and this is when we should’ve all known it was over.
Bibby knocked down a free throw. And, you guessed it! So did Brimah. And then Bibby turned it over. Purvis hit a three from long range with the shot clock running out. And on the other end, sophomore guard Jalen Adams drew the foul to add two points to rack up a 9-point advantage.
USF was once again USF and couldn’t close out. But tonight, it was kind of different because there was really no giving up for these guys. They played hard and fought nobly. Between tonight’s game and Sunday’s game against Temple I just wanna know WHERE HAS THIS FIGHT BEEN ALL SEASON? Like really, y’all waited until the LAST TWO GAMES of the season to show up ... I digress.
Tonight’s exciting effort came up a little too short and Purvis led the Huskies to a 77-66 victory with a career-high 30 points. Thorpe had a team high 23 points and 6 assists for USF.
The Bulls will head back to Tampa instead of playing against Houston tomorrow in the quarterfinals.
So despite all of my snarky articles, a 7-22 (1-17, AAC) regular season, and getting knocked out of the tournament in the first round, it’s been a fun season covering these guys. They’ve showed a lot of heart, toughness, and positivity throughout a year full of adversity (you know … two head coaches, suspensions, dismissals, transfers, NCAA investigations, the airport thing, etc.,) and I’m proud of them for at least that.
On another note ... *keeps eyes open for transfer announcements*