By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Head coach Stan Heath’s Bulls had an extra pep in their step during Thursday’s practice after completing a comeback to remember the night before at George Mason.
The Bulls trailed by 17 points with 12:19 remaining before completely flipping the script on the Patriots down the stretch in a 68-66 win that was capped off by Corey Allen Jr.’s fadeaway jumper with 2 seconds on the clock.
“What I saw was our team really coming together,” Heath said. “The 12 minutes down the stretch we looked like a really cohesive basketball team on both ends of the court. It looked like we were playing with a purpose and it looked like we had total focus. Everybody was playing unselfish basketball.”
It all started with a dunk by freshman Chris Perry that cut the deficit to 12, followed by a mental mistake by George Mason which totally opened the door for the rallying Bulls. A technical foul paved the way for four straight free throws from Anthony Collins at the 8:55 mark.
“I thought we were almost knocked to the canvas, I mean knocked out. It was like a standing 9 count and the guy was getting ready to go, ‘10’ and all the sudden they knocked Anthony Collins down,” Heath said. “I thought that changed the whole game. You saw a whole bunch of guys on the bench and whole bunch of guys on the floor like, ‘Hey, hold on. You’re not going to do that to my guy.’ I was really proud of our basketball team.”
Collins hooked up with Javontae Hawkins for an alley-oop dunk after the free throws as USF scored 18 unanswered points while George Mason went scoreless for more than 7 minutes. The Bulls continued on a 21-3 run past the 5-minute mark and got tough in crunch time. USF’s lead was cut to 1 three times in the final 3 minutes and George Mason tied the game at 66 with a 3-pointer by Bryon Allen with 21 seconds remaining.
Heath took a timeout with 15 seconds on the clock and stuck to his game plan that was centered around getting the ball to his hottest hand. Corey Allen Jr. scored 10 points of his team-high 19 points in the final 3 minutes while going perfect from the field and free throw line (6-for-6 combined) and the first-year Bull became a household name by knocking down the game-winning shot from the baseline.
“Going into the game it was a test to see if we were going to lay down or step up after taking two losses in a row,” Allen said. “It really showed us as a team how we can be if we play together.”
Now that team chemistry is at a season high, USF knows it has to keep a good thing going during the final part of the non-conference schedule. The 5-2 Bulls face off against Alabama 9 p.m. Saturday at the Sun Dome before playing four games in the Las Vegas Classic and capping off the first part of the schedule with a test at Bradley on Dec. 28.
“We want to carry this momentum into our next game,” Heath said. “We have a big game against Alabama and we have a little bit of time with exams coming up, so I have to do a good job of getting my guys’ attention on the next opponent. Sometimes if you enjoy a win for too long your focus isn’t there for your next opponent.”
Heath saw an encouraging sign when the Bulls hit the gym in business mode Thursday afternoon at the Muma Center.
“We have to carry those 12 minutes throughout the rest of our season,” Heath said.
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