TAMPA — Three-tenths of a second literally added a year to Stan Heath's life Tuesday.
On the night he turned 49, Heath had to unwrap tension and disentangle an obscure buzzer-beater rule to get to the one gift he coveted: a third consecutive triumph.
It arrived after 50 excruciating minutes and one improbable last-gasp play.
Chase Fieler's catch-and-shoot basket at the buzzer — off an NFL-type throw by Jamail Jones from the opposite baseline — was waved off by officials, preserving USF's 68-66 double-overtime win against Florida Gulf Coast.
"I'll take it," Heath said.
For those Bulls fans graying at home, that's three triumphs in a row by two points. But Tuesday's escape, before a Sun Dome audience of 4,105, took Heath's cake.
FGCU (5-5) called a timeout with three-tenths of a second to play after Anthony Collins missed the second of two free throws.
On the ensuing inbounds, Jones — guarded by Bulls 7-foot-3 sophomore Jordan Omogbehin — found Fieler, who caught the pass at the left baseline and threw up a short jumper that bounced a couple of times before falling.
"Probably some offensive coordinators would like to sign (Jones) right now," FGCU coach Joe Dooley said.
Officials immediately went to the monitor, but Heath gravitated toward the Eagles bench to begin handshakes.
During the timeout, he said officials reminded him of a college rule saying that any basket made with three-tenths of a second or less to play can be only via tip-in. Still photos showed the ball exiting Fieler's hands before the red game-clock light illuminated atop the backboard.
"I got a little worried why they were going to the monitor. I think they were just trying to confirm he caught it and shot it," Heath said.
"They were very clear to me before the play even happened that he had to tip it. There was no chance he could catch and shoot that ball. If it's (four-tenths), we're in trouble."
Trouble was a steady companion Tuesday for the Bulls, playing their first game in 10 days. Subtract senior Victor Rudd's double double (23 points, 14 rebounds), and USF shot 19-for-50 from the floor.
Worse, the Bulls (7-2) went 7-for-20 from the free-throw line, missing 5 of 9 in the last minute. Defensively, they allowed FGCU guard Bernard Thompson — sore ankle and all — to flourish from the perimeter (32 points), and they botched a double screen on the last play.
But as far as this present was concerned, it was the thought that counted for Heath.
"I thought we played hard, I thought we played with great effort out there, but we've got to put the ball in the basket, whether it's free-throw shooting or shooting," he said. "We can't just keep going through games and relying on defense."