Bulls hold off FIU for fourth straight win
I'm headed back up the road -- lots of news tonight with the Sun Bowl announcement, but here's my game story. Look for lots more on El Paso in the morning ...
MIAMI -- USF senior center Kentrell Gransberry knows there is no such thing as a bad road victory.
"It can't always be pretty, but we'll take an ugly one," said Gransberry, who led the Bulls to their fourth win in a row, a 77-69 victory against Florida International before a crowd of 1,026 at Pharmed Arena. "We've bounced back real good from being 0-3, and that shows a lot of character."
Gransberry matched his season high with 21 points, and though the Bulls didn't have the outside shooting that had fueled their previous wins, coach Stan Heath was pleased by the way his team held strong on the road. FIU (2-1) got within two points three times in the second half but got no closer.
"I know this wasn't one of our better performances. We weren't especially sharp," Heath said. "Stats can be deceiving. We shot 54 percent, but you're thinking, 'I don't think we were that good offensively.' I give our team a lot of credit. ... We found a way to hold them off, keep the lead, make a key play when we needed to."
USF beat the Panthers by 29 in Tampa last season, but had lost to FIU in double overtime two years ago in their last trip to Miami. FIU led 20-13 early, with Gransberry and guard Jesus Verdejo the only Bulls to score in the first eight minutes. Once the supporting cast got going, the Bulls took over, getting their first lead at 28-26 and never trailing again.
Verdejo went 3-for-4 on 3-pointers, finishing with 15 points, and freshman Dominique Jones went for 14. FIU got 15 points from Kenneth White, a transfer from Texas A&M.
USF struggled at the free-throw line much of the night, hitting 11 of its first 21 attempts, but the Bulls sealed the win at the line, going 7-for-8 in the final 2:22, including a 4-for-4 effort from guard Solomon Bozeman. Gransberry liked the way his team didn't fade in the closing minutes, as they did in their 0-3 start.
"We know now not to let those guys come back, so we fight, scratch and claw not to let a game slip away from us," he said. "We learned our lessons in the first three games."
TRANSFER SIGNS: Heath has landed an impact transfer in guard Mike Mercer, who was dismissed from Georgia's basketball team last week. Mercer, Georgia's second-leading scorer last year with 13.6 points per game, has signed scholarship papers and will enroll in January, becoming eligible in December 2008 with a season and a half of eligibility.
"He's a kid that is very talented, a difference-maker, an impact guy," said Heath, who coached against him at Arkansas the last two seasons. "His versatility will really help our basketball team in a lot of ways. He's one of those guys you bring in and everybody says 'He could be a difference at USF in the future.'"
Heath said he talked with Georgia coach Dennis Felton about Mercer and is comfortable that he won't be a problem at USF.
"Sometimes a change of environment can be really helpful for a kid," Heath said. "I know Dennis very well and he and I had a long talk about the situation. Dennis thought it would be a good move for Mike and a good move for us to give him a second opportunity. We had a nice talk about his commitment to the school and being totally committed to our team, and he's on board. He's excited about it, and we're excited to have him."