TAMPA — By no means did the game need to be on the line in the first place, but USF junior Ron Anderson was about to take a free throw to put the Bulls up by four points on St. Francis (N.Y.) with six seconds left when an official pulled him from the game with an open cut on his left elbow.
Anderson pointed to USF's bench and to sophomore guard Shaun Noriega, who stepped in as pinch-shooter, hit the free throw and sealed the Bulls' far-too-close 74-71 victory Monday at the Sun Dome.
"I was ready to shoot the second one," Anderson said. "He told me I had to get out, and I pointed right at Shaun. … I told him he stole my point, but I'll give it to him."
It was a rare night when USF (1-1) saw its bench outscore its starters 38-36. Anderson, a transfer from Kansas State, had a career-best 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and Noriega, who scored 17 in his entire freshman year, finished with 15 — all in the first half except for his final shot.
"It's good to get a win. I think we all kind of expected a little more of a margin," said USF coach Stan Heath, who had seen the Terriers lose their opener by 30 points to Boston College.
The Terriers (0-2) went 13-for-22 beyond the arc, including six from guard Ricky Cadell, who scored a game-high 28, keeping St. Francis in the game far longer than the announced crowd of 2,722 expected.
"Give St. Francis a lot of credit … even if you're by yourself, 59 percent shooting from 3 is pretty good," Heath said. "That's very, very impressive."
The Bulls led 44-34 when St. Francis went on a 14-0 run, and the score was still tied at 58 with 7:35 to play.
Anderson scored the next seven himself, and the Bulls looked to be in control, leading 73-65 with 1:20 to play. USF, which had seen Southern Miss score the final 15 in a season-opening loss, let the Terriers get within three points before Noriega's free throw put the win away.
Heath clearly is still trying to find the right combination; he played all 11 scholarship players in the first six minutes. His frontcourt of Augustus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous was quiet, with Gilchrist getting seven points and Famous five. Sophomore guard Jawanza Poland, making his first start, had 15 points and five assists, as well as a steal and dunk in the final seconds before halftime.
The Bulls, who went 9-for-23 on 3-pointers, led by four by Noriega, next play Thursday at Central Florida.