TAMPA — At one point early Wednesday night, USF led Virginia Commonwealth by 18. But to Stan Heath's dismay, the Bulls had to make it interesting, going to overtime with the Rams and prevailing only after a last-second shot hit the rim and bounced out.
"We had opportunities to maybe make it a little easier on my heart, but we just decided not to," Heath said after the Bulls' 60-59 win before 2,921 at the Sun Dome. "I've got to talk to my team about that."
The Bulls (5-3) jumped out to a 28-10 lead and led the entire way until VCU (4-2) scored five in 10 seconds for its first lead with 40 seconds left in regulation. USF guard Jawanza Poland hit a three-point play to give the Bulls a 52-50 lead, but Lakewood's Ed Nixon hit a layup with 11 seconds left to force overtime.
Forward Ron Anderson, who finished with 10 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks, led USF to a six-point lead in overtime, but again it was just enough to hold on.
Up by four, USF's Augustus Gilchrist was called for an intentional offensive foul with 1:13 left, part of a mandate to issue the harsher call on any foul where an elbow strikes an opponent's head. VCU's Jamie Skeen hit 3 of 4 free throws to pull within one, and the Rams got the ball back for one last shot with 9.5 seconds left. Bradford Burgess (15 points, 13 rebounds) drove and got off a shot but missed it short.
It was a close one, five days after losing in double overtime to then-No. 23 BYU and four days after pulling out a three-point win against Texas Tech. Six of USF's eight games have been decided by seven points or fewer, and the nonconference nail-biters should help the Bulls prepare for the pressure of Big East play.
"We know that every game in the Big East is going to go down to the wire," Anderson said. "I'm glad we're going through this kind of adversity now, because it's going to do nothing but help us once we're in the Big East."
The Bulls had good balance, with forward Hugh Robertson leading with a season-high 14 points, Gilchrist adding 12 and Poland 11. USF had 14 assists on its first 17 baskets, benefitting from the return of point guard Anthony Crater, who missed three games with an ankle injury. Heath was pleased to see his team commit only 13 turnovers against a tough pressing team.
"We've been atrocious with turnovers and we finally did a good job," he said. "Thirteen in any game's a good job. Thirteen against this team is almost like having five in a regular game."