SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — USF coach Stan Heath admits he has asked a lot of Mike Burwell since Burwell replaced Anthony Crater as the Bulls' starting point guard. Yet in each of the past three games, Burwell has done just what his coach wanted.
On Saturday that meant knocking down a free throw with 25 seconds on the clock, then fouling with six seconds remaining and a three-point win on the line, sending Texas Tech to the free-throw line rather than the 3-point arc where it might have won the game.
He did it all on a sprained ankle, but ultimately helped USF solidify a 64-61 win less than 24 hours after a double-overtime loss to Brigham Young.
"I think he's an experienced, calming force for us, and when he was able to come back in the second half, that was key," Heath said.
Guard play proved critical in matching up with Texas Tech, which went small after losing three forwards to injury already this season. With Crater sidelined by a sprained ankle and Burwell playing on his own injury, the Bulls relied heavily on rotating their point guards to keep players fresh.
Still, Heath wasn't happy with his team's slow start.
USF held Texas Tech to 16 percent field-goal shooting in the first five minutes but didn't fare much better, making one third of its own shots. The score was 6-4 Bulls until a 12-2 run by Texas Tech made it 16-8 with 5:59 left in the first half.
Jawanza Poland led USF with six first-half points as the Bulls trailed the Red Raiders 23-19. USF had made 6 of 19 shots, including 1 of 10 3-pointers.
"In the first half I was happy about our defense, but our offense wasn't clicking," said Texas Tech point guard John Roberson, who led his team with 16 points. "When we were getting the shots we wanted, we weren't knocking them down."
Ron Anderson Jr. finished the game with 16 points to lead the Bulls (4-3), and Augustus Gilchrist added 10 points and nine rebounds.
USF had a chance to tie the score early in the second half, making 5 of 7 shots in the first 41/2 minutes. But the lead changed hands five times in the final 20 minutes, and the score was tied three times.
Ultimately Burwell's free throw and two from Poland in the closing seconds sealed the win.
"It took us a while to really get going," Heath said, "but as we came back, lost the lead and came back again, obviously down the stretch we really needed to make some free throws."