By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Victor Rudd called it "crazy," Stan Heath called it "incredible," and USF fans at the Sun Dome on Friday night will certainly describe the Bulls' 87-84 win over Bowling Green in triple overtime as simply unforgettable.
Rudd scored a game-high 29 points and his three free throws in the remaining seconds of the final overtime made the difference as the Bulls somehow found a way to get to 7-3 after a win nearly escaped them too many times to remember in battle that included a 22-minute delay because the lights went out.
"There were so many times it looked like the game was over, so many mistakes we made, and we stayed with it," Heath said. "It's a team effort through and through, but I have to give Rudd and (Martino) Brock a lot of credit. I thought they really stepped up on some big, big plays."
USF's last bit of drama came with less than 30 seconds to play as Bowling Green was ahead, 84-82, with Anthony Henderson driving to the hoop for what would be a game-sealing layup. Brock came up with a block Heath described as the Bulls' defensive play of the year and Rudd took care of the rest, making a layup with 13 seconds left and adding two free throws with a tick remaining to secure the victory.
Heroics were a norm for Rudd on a night that saw him tie the game up with a 3-pointer with just 3.8 seconds left in regulation and the junior followed that up with a game-tying 3 with 28 seconds left in the second overtime.
"It was an incredible, man. You love to be a part of a game like that," Rudd said. "We probably wouldn't have wanted it that close, but you love to be a part of a game like that. Everybody was playing hard and that's all you can ask for."
Rudd's final shot of regulation capped off an unthinkable comeback by the Bulls inside of one minute to play. USF trailed, 60-53, with 45 seconds left before Jawanza Poland hit the first of two crucial 3-pointers for the Bulls and Anthony Collins beat two defenders to the hoop for a layup with 14 seconds to play.
Bowling Green's A'uston Calhoun sank his first free throw four seconds later and his miss that followed proved to be costly as Rudd found some room beyond the arc and started the crazy run to the finish.
Poland, who didn't play the entire first half, started the first overtime off with a dunk and a Toaryln Fitzpatrick 3-pointer put USF ahead, 66-62. A James Erger 3-pointer got Bowling Green within one until a Poland bucket and foul shot kept the Bulls in charge by a 69-65 margin with 1:24 left.
Calhoun got the Falcons within two before Rudd answered with a bank shot, and a miss by Bowling Green's Jordon Crawford resulted in Poland going back to the line with 21.6 seconds to play.
The only thing to slow the Bulls from there was an electrical issue with the Sun Dome's lighting system that left Poland in the dark as he got ready to shoot at 9:03 p.m. The senior guard went back to the line at 9:25 p.m. and missed before Crawford jetted down the court and hit a layup with 15 seconds to play.
Collins followed with another miss from the free throw line before Crawford sprinted back down the court and hit a layup to send the game to double overtime tied at 71.
"That was the ultimate freeze right there," said Heath of the delay. "Both of those guys were in a tough spot."
Rudd's second clutch 3-pointer tied the game at 78 in the second OT and the Bulls were again on the comeback trail in the final period. Free throws by Crawford put the Falcons ahead, 84-82, before Brock's layup tied the game with 27 seconds to play. Rudd hit the go-ahead layup with 13 seconds left, ended his night with two more and Bowling Green's chance at a win came up short on a miracle attempt by Richaun Holmes.
"It's not what I wanted the day before a break, but these kind of games can help you as the season goes on because you've been in these games, you don't quit and you keep fighting," Heath said.
Brock finished his best game as a Bull with 18 points, seven rebounds and a block USF fans will be talking about well after the Bulls resume their season Saturday, Dec. 29 at home against George Mason. Fitzpatrick added 16 points and Poland finished with 11 points to help the Bulls equal their entire non-conference win total from 2011-12.
Crawford nearly came away as a hero a number of times and finished with 27 points despite only being 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds. Calhoun added 22 points as the Falcons fell to 5-6.
"I thought we got a little bit lax and they took advantage," Heath said. "Once Crawford and Calhoun got going, they were difficult to guard. Those guys are as good as anybody you'll find."