TAMPA — USF coach Stan Heath stood stone-faced, his arms crossed as he watched a stellar comeback bid come up short when Notre Dame's star made one more big play.
Senior forward Luke Harangody drew a foul with 1.9 seconds left and broke a tie with a free throw, his season-high 36th point, as he and the Fighting Irish pulled out a hard-fought 74-73 win Tuesday night.
"They know when they need to make something happen, he can make a play and bail them out," Heath said. "What a great college player. Every time we don't play them, I'm a fan of his."
But he hoped to appreciate his rival while celebrating an improbable Big East win.
Not only were the Bulls (10-4, 0-2) coming off a disappointing loss at Louisville, injuries and transfers had whittled Heath's roster to eight players. Seven played Tuesday, and one of them, walk-on guard Ryan Kardok, was on the court for a minute.
Still, they were tied at halftime and took a 38-37 lead before Harangody, a two-time All-American, took control and powered his team to a 60-47 lead midway through the half.
But USF junior guard Dominique Jones, who scored a team-high 26, junior forward Jarrid Famous and freshman forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick keyed a comeback. A dunk by Fitzpatrick, a former King High standout who had a career-high 13 points, capped a 24-9 run that gave the Bulls a 71-69 lead with 1:50 left and brought the season-high crowd of 5,107 to its feet.
Harangody answered with a hook shot to tie it, junior forward Tyrone Nash followed with a pair of free throws then USF senior guard Mike Mercer tipped in his own miss to tie it again at 73.
"I really thought when we tied it up, we would get that big stop," Heath said. "Unfortunately it just didn't happen that way."
After a timeout, the Irish got the ball to their star.
"I thought I could take the defender (Fitzpatrick) off (the dribble)," Harangody said. "He was leaning to my left and I was going to do my patented ugly spin move."
The extra defender was Mercer, who had been sneaking over to help out on him down the stretch. Heath said the initial plan was to shut down his teammates even if it meant Harangody scored 25 or 30.
"It got to the point," Heath said, "just letting him go wasn't working."
With the clock winding down, Mercer went at him to perhaps force a pass.
"I saw him driving. I saw him spinning and I hedged at him," he said. "Unfortunately he got the call. It was a tough break."
"Tory (Jackson) did a good job of getting Luke a touch at the elbow, and when we do get him a touch there, we clear the whole side," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who won for the 300th time in his career.
"I didn't think they would let the game end like that; they say we fouled him so they gave it to them," Jones said. "Toarlyn played him hard, but Harangody made some tough plays and that made the difference."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.