TAMPA — Up eight points with four minutes to play Friday, USF looked to be on its way to a season-opening win against Southern Miss.
The Bulls didn't score the rest of the way, and the Golden Eagles finished the game with a 15-0 run, escaping the Sun Dome with a 60-53 victory that started coach Stan Heath's fourth season on a frustrating note before an announced crowd of 3,689.
"I really thought we had a chance to put the game away, but we let it slip away," Heath said. "(Southern Miss) played like a veteran team. We played like an inexperienced team. They ran their offense, showed patience, got the ball where they wanted it, got fouled, got shots, and they finished.
"We were always kind of in a little bit of a hurry, forcing shots. We had to make harder plays down the stretch, and we weren't able to score."
The Bulls made only 12 of 23 free-throw attempts, and they missed four dunks, the last of which would have put them up nine with 4:30 left. Instead, USF didn't score over the final 4:14 and didn't hit a field goal over the final 5:45, going down in a mix of turnovers and missed shots.
"We fouled too much, gave them easy shots at the free-throw line, and they executed," said center Jarrid Famous, who had 10 points and eight rebounds.
"We have to go back to the drawing board and work hard in practice."
Junior forward Augustus Gilchrist, expected to be the Bulls' top scorer now that guard Dominique Jones is in the NBA, struggled from the field, hitting 4 of 16 shots, and he committed four turnovers and didn't have an assist. Sophomore guard Jawanza Poland, who had a team-best 12 points, went 3-for-5 on 3-pointers, but the rest of the Bulls went 2-for-13.
"I think if we were to face this team another month from now, I think we'd have a better chance at different results," Heath said. "We'll be a little more experienced, a little more seasoned.
"We learned a lot about our team. I thought some guys stepped up in some ways and some guys weren't as effective as they can be and should have been."
Forward Gary Flowers led Southern Miss with 15 points, including the tying basket with 1:32 left and three free throws that sealed the win.
Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his blog at blogs.sptimes.com/usf.