ROSEMONT, Ill. — From the opening tip to the final desperate seconds, this was not an easy game for USF, though the final score ended 63-59 in the Bulls' favor over determined DePaul.
In a late-season Big East road game USF needed to win, key free-throw shooting and a couple of clutch baskets helped the Bulls (18-11, 8-9) earn a victory.
"Coach (Stan Heath) wanted us to come out with energy, play hard, play strong and do the things that we knew we were capable of," Bulls center Jarrid Famous said. "We came out and had a lot of energy in the second half."
Few numbers were positive for the Bulls in the first half. They shot 7-of-23 and committed eight turnovers.
"We didn't play Bulls basketball," Famous said. "I know I didn't feel I had a lot of energy. Coming out in the second half, Coach emphasized me getting out there and getting rebounds and playing my best."
USF put itself back on track from the start of the second half, though DePaul (8-21, 1-16) never went fully away. The Bulls scored the first nine of the half and took the lead for the first time since the opening seconds of the game.
Even when USF hit DePaul with an 11-2 run midway through the half and opened a 48-41 lead, the Blue Demons were not finished. They slowly chipped at the lead, mostly from the free-throw line, and tied the score at 56-56 on a pair of Devin Hill free throws with 2:32 left. Those points completed an 8-0 DePaul run, the last extended run by either team.
With Dominique Jones again struggling, USF turned to Augusus Gilchrist, who scored eight of his 11 in the second half.
"We went to him a lot more inside since we were struggling in so many other areas," Heath said. "I thought … that he played extended minutes and was effective around the basket."
But with the game on the line late, USF got a key contribution from Jones, who made a 3-pointer from the left wing with time running out on the shot clock to put the Bulls up for good, 59-56. Jones finished with 20 points.
"A couple of minutes before, he came to me and said, 'Coach, I'm just not playing well,' " Heath said of Jones. "I said, 'Dominique, you're not the first really good player to not play well in a game.' I said, 'What you have to do is step up and finish well.' "
Mac Koshwal led DePaul with 24 points, and Will Walker added 16 points for the league's last-place team.