PROVIDENCE, R.I. — According to the play-by-play sheet, USF beat Providence 55-48 Saturday by converting 8 of 10 free throws in the final 59 seconds of their Big East game.
Realistically, the Bulls (15-10, 8-4) prevailed because seldom-used junior Shaun Noriega came off the bench and buried consecutive 3-pointers that produced a 47-46 lead with 1:46 to play.
LaDontae Henton's basket gave the Friars (13-13, 2-11) a 48-47 lead, but point guard Anthony Collins commenced USF's parade to the line as the Bulls made six straight free throws. The free-throw shooting — 12-of-15 for the game — might have been rendered moot were it not for Noriega.
"It was one of those gut feelings," coach Stan Heath said of his decision to insert Noriega with just more than two minutes remaining. "I asked him, 'What do you think? Can you do it?'
"He said, 'I've got one.' And the kid gave me two. Those were big momentum plays for us, and they changed the game. … He hadn't played much recently, and I didn't want to put him in a bad spot."
What made Noriega's long-range shooting more impressive was the fact he had not played in four of the previous six games.
"The last couple of weeks have been rough," he said. "But I just tried to stay positive and get better so I can play and contribute. I think (Saturday's) a big stepping-stone for our team and also for myself."
The Bulls moved four games over .500 for the first time since joining the Big East. But as Heath noted, the win wasn't easy, one reason being Providence scored 13 off 15 turnovers.
"We were very fortunate to steal a win," Heath said. "We just tried to hang in there, and we took a lot of punches."
Victor Rudd was the only Bull to reach double figures (11). Vincent Council (16) led the Friars.
The Bulls, who led 24-21 at halftime, also did a better job with their man-to-man defense against Providence than has been the case in the past. They held the Friars to 30 percent shooting and limited freshman forward Henton to seven points after he scored a career-high 33 on Jan. 29 in USF's 81-78 win.
"We knew we had to take away their transition," Heath said. "We did a much better job in the second half. I think it took some of their guys who can really score and didn't allow them to get in a rhythm that they've gotten into before.
"I don't know how those guys feel, but I'm exhausted," he added, with a laugh. "The guys did a fantastic job, and there are a lot of heroes in that locker room."