PISCATAWAY, N.J. — As befit the lowest-scoring game the Big East has seen this season, Saturday's meeting between USF and Rutgers was decided in the final moments not by a heroic 3-pointer or thunderous dunk but by a series of hard-fought offensive rebounds.
Scoreless for more than eight minutes, the Scarlet Knights closed the regular season with a 45-42 home win after sophomore reserve Earl Pettis tipped in a basket with 13 seconds left, capping a run of four straight offensive rebounds that kept USF from getting the ball back with a one-point deficit.
Two of the bottom three teams in the Big East combined for 73 rebounds and hit 30 percent of their shots from the field. USF guard Dominique Jones led all scorers with 11 points and needed 19 shots to do it.
"That wasn't an aesthetically pleasing game," Rutgers coach Fred Hill said.
Facing a team that had lost 17 of 18 games, USF was denied the rare pleasure of back-to-back conference wins. The Bulls (9-21, 4-14 Big East) had aimed to build on Tuesday's win against Cincinnati — an unprecedented fourth conference win for the fourth-year Big East program — but they never led, tying the score five times.
USF got 22 minutes from Jesus Verdejo, who had missed three of the past four games because of a foot injury, but as coach Stan Heath put it, the team's second-leading scorer was "a shell of himself" in contributing five points and three rebounds.
Rutgers (11-20, 2-16) took a 43-34 lead with 8:40 left before Chris Howard answered with six quick points. With 3:10 left, Jones drove past Anthony Farmer for a layup that cut the USF deficit to 43-42.
USF couldn't break through on its next two possessions, though, and finally the Knights found a basket. They missed four shots before Pettis' tip-in, draining 1:40 off the clock as Pettis and 6-foot-9, 260-pound freshman Gregory Echenique each grabbed a pair of rebounds.
Needing three points on the final play, the Bulls drew up a kickout play for Gus Gilchrist, but Echenique contested well, and the jump shot missed.
The problem wasn't effort, said Heath, whose team will stay in the New York area before opening the Big East tournament Tuesday night against Seton Hall.
"They wanted it. They got after it," Heath said of his team. "There were a few times we weren't able to physically match them up."