Unlucky 13: Ohio 3s end Bulls' NCAA run, 62-56
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It would have hurt no matter how or when it ended, but for USF, the painful part of falling 62-56 to 13th-seeded Ohio in the NCAA Tournament's third round on Sunday night was the way their strengths weren't there in the end.
The Bulls' signature defense, which carried them to the first NCAA Tournament wins in the program's history, saw the Bobcats go 9-for-18 on 3-pointers, and Ohio scored 41 points in the second half, eliminating the Bulls with a 62-56 win at Bridgestone Arena.
Twelfth-seeded USF saw its Cinderella run trumped by an even bigger underdog -- Ohio is just the second team seeded 13th or lower to advance to the Sweet 16 in the last 12 years.
"Of course, I was upset we lost, but I'm not disappointed," said guard Victor Rudd, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds. "I know this is going to set the tone for our team next year, but I'm just sad to see our seniors leave on this note."
USF (22-14) saw momentum swing twice in the second half on 5-point possessions by Ohio (29-7), first on an intentional foul called on Rudd for grabbing a Bobcats player jersey, which resulted in two free throws, then a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
That erased a 5-point lead, and the same thing happened when Jawanza Poland dunked the ball for a 42-37 lead with 9:23 left, only to be called for a technical for hanging on the rim. Ohio's Nick Kellogg hit both free throws, then hit a 3-pointer, erasing USF's lead and sparking a 17-4 run that had the Bobcats up 54-46 with 3:28 to play.
"I don't want to blame one play ... (to say it) decided the game. It certainly changed momentum," Bulls coach Stan Heath said. "I don't think we handled ... the response was not normal for us. In games like this, 30 seconds can change, and it did."
Ohio, which had upset fourth-seeded Michigan on Friday right before USF upset fifth-seeded Temple, retook the lead at 47-46 on a 3-pointer by Walter Offult, who went 4-for-4 beyond the arc and had a game-high 21 points.
Then the Bulls, so rarely fazed by adversity in the last month, saw things unravel. USF had been 11-for-12 at the line, but Ron Anderson and Poland both missed front ends of 1-and-1s, and Shaun Noriega, an 85 percent free-throw shooter, missed both his attempts, allowing Ohio to extend its lead to eight points.
USF had gone 1-for-12 on 3-pointers, but the Bulls cut the lead to three when Toarlyn Fitzpatrick finally hit a 3-pointer with 49 seconds left. But D.J. Cooper hit both free throws, and USF missed on the other end, allowing the Bobcats to pull away for the season-ending win.
The Bulls matched a school record with 22 wins and earned the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament victories after making the NCAAs for the first time in 20 years. Those accomplishments were momentarily overshadowed by the finality of a surprising run that ended too soon for the Bulls players.
"Right now, we probably don't appreciate how blessed we are to get this far when no one picked us to go this far in preseason," said freshman point guard Anthony Collins, who had 13 points and six assists. "I'm sure when we look back, everyone will appreciate it and enjoy the time that we had with each other."