Jones leads Bulls past UCF, 75-67
TAMPA – The scoreboard was a much different story, but the teams and the result were ultimately the same, and USF’s student section relished a hard-fought 75-67 win against rival Central Florida.
The chant in the Sun Dome at the end of Saturday’s game? “Just like football.”
USF (5-3) won its fifth straight game, and of course it wasn’t as easy as the Bulls’ 64-12 football victory in October. The Bulls got a huge game from freshman guard Dominique Jones, who scored 30 points on 10-of-13 shooting, including key points down the stretch.
“That’s a quality win for us,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “That’s a very good basketball team, so we feel fortunate that we played well and were able to pull it out and play with some poise down the stretch.”
Jones, a 6-4 freshman from Lake Wales, had scored in double figures in six of USF’s seven games, but his previous high was 17. It’s the most scored by any Bulls player since James Holmes had 35 in an overtime loss to Seton Hall in January 2006.
“Dominique, as a freshman, was terrific tonight, just so aggressive and making a lot of plays out there,” Heath said.
None of Jones’ points were bigger than a transition layup with 43 seconds left. UCF, down 70-67, had missed a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired, and the Bulls pushed the ball upcourt, with Chris Howard passing to Jesus Verdejo, who found a streaking Jones to extend the Bulls’ lead to five, exciting the crowd of 4,031.
“The main thing was I was feeling comfortable, even if I made a mistake,” said Jones, who had two points in the first 10 minutes, then scored 13 of USF’s next 15 points.
USF also got a double-double from center Kentrell Gransberry, who had 11 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. Jones also matched the team high with five assists and tied his season high with four steals. Freshman Orane Chin added eight points and 10 rebounds.
Every time USF would extend its lead, UCF (4-3) would hit a big shot. Down 61-56, the Knights got free throws from Stanley Billings and a 3-pointer by Tony Davis to tie the game. Down 70-64 with two minutes to play, Mike O’Donnell hit a huge 3-pointer, but the Knights didn't score again. Jermaine Taylor led the Knights with 20 points, but he went 0-for-6 on 3-pointers, part of a 6-for-21 night beyond the arc for UCF.
The two teams hadn’t played since 2002, but USF went into the game having won the last eight meetings. After an 0-3 start that was the team's worst opening in 20 years, the Bulls now have their longest win streak since 2001, with a trip Wednesday to Richmond.
Heath improves to 4-0 against in-state opponents, but he stopped short of accepting any unofficial titles as the state's best team.
"I don't know if Florida would agree with that, but we've won some games in a row here," Heath said. "It's not necessarily where they're from, but we've won some very important games to get things going."