TAMPA — Marquette coach Buzz Williams likened Wednesday's stunning 59-58 come-from-behind win over USF to an "out-of-body experience," saying there was no way to philosophically describe how it happened.
"South Florida could have easily have won," Williams said. "I thought they played extremely well and you look at the numbers statistically, you could argue they should have won."
But the Bulls, who outshot, outrebounded and outplayed the Golden Eagles for a lot of the game, said they had nobody to blame but themselves for blowing a 16-point second-half lead before 4,153 at the Sun Dome.
Simply put, they gave the game away.
USF committed 19 turnovers, succumbing to Marquette's pressure. And though the Bulls had several chances to tie in the final minute (thanks to six missed free throws by Marquette), it offered little solace.
"When you're up 16, there's no way you're supposed to let a team come back and win," point guard Anthony Crater said.
It appeared the Bulls (8-17, 2-10 Big East) had an upset in their grasp. USF controlled the tempo while shooting nearly 70 percent in the first half. They got big contributions from sophomore forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (career-high 16 points) and Augustus Gilchrist (11 points). They held one of the Big East's top scorers, guard Darius Johnson-Odom, to seven points.
But USF coach Stan Heath said the tide started to turn with 14 minutes left and USF up by 16. Though Marquette picked up the fullcourt pressure, the Bulls said a lot of their mistakes were self-inflicted.
"Yes, they sped us up," Heath said. "But we fell into the trap."
Marquette (15-9, 6-5) tied it with 5:30 left and took its largest lead, 59-55, on a 3-pointer by forward Jae Crowder (who made 4 of 5 3-pointers) with 1:21 to go.
Yet with the Golden Eagles going 0-for-7 from the line down the stretch, USF had several possessions down by three. Two ended on turnovers. With 8.1 seconds to go, Crater appeared to have hit a tying 3 from the corner, but a timeout had been called by Heath a second earlier. "I knew it wasn't good because I heard the whistle," Crater said.
Then, with 1.1 seconds left — after two more missed free throws — Fitzpatrick was fouled after getting the rebound. He made the first free throw and tried to miss the second on purpose. Fittingly, the shot banked in.
Said Heath: "It was just one of those days."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]sptimes.com.