TAMPA — Reaching a milestone wasn't nearly sufficient Tuesday night for Victor Rudd. For openers, USF's fifth-year senior made history. Eventually, he made amends. By night's end, he made the Bulls' season matter again.
Two nights after being benched for a lack of focus in the final 18 minutes of a 32-point loss at Memphis, Rudd was the star of USF's most sparkling ensemble effort of the year.
Fifteen of his 21 points came after halftime as the Bulls (11-10, 2-6 American) stunned SMU 78-71 before a spirited Sun Dome audience of 3,407. In the process, Rudd became the 18th player to score 1,000 in a USF uniform.
"I needed to bounce back for my teammates," Rudd said. "I got out of character at Memphis and I've got to let my teammates know that ain't me."
USF's best effort of the year also was its most improbable. SMU, which embarrassed the Bulls by 17 only 13 nights before, entered with a five-game win streak and the nation's No. 2 field-goal percentage defense (36.2).
But the Bulls, who had lost four in a row, shot 53.1 percent (26-for-49), totaling 38 points in the paint to SMU's 28. USF made its final 15 free throws, belying its 66.3 season percentage going in.
"Our guys must've been chirping at them when we played them in Dallas, because their energy was amazing," 73-year-old SMU Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown said. "To have your team lose some games like they did and have (Coach) Stan (Heath) have 'em ready like this, I thought they did an unbelievable job."
In a game featuring 17 lead changes, Shemiye McLendon put USF up for good, 56-55, with the first two of the Bulls' consecutive free throws with 5:31 to go.
Thirty-five seconds later, 6-foot-8 freshman Chris Perry (18 points, eight rebounds) was fouled on a fallaway basket in the lane and converted the ensuing free throw to make it 59-55.
"I woke up this morning feeling good, and I told myself I wasn't gonna have another bad game," said Perry, who had totaled 18 points his past three games. "I'd been playing awful lately."
The Bulls led by six when Corey Allen hit a 3-pointer from the wing with 2:35 left. Rudd hit a midrange jumper 69 seconds later to make it 70-62. SMU (16-5, 5-3) didn't get within five again.
"I think we can really build off this," Heath said. "We were flat embarrassed against Louisville (a 39-point loss seven days ago), and I was glad to see the guys had some pride."