TAMPA — It could have been a dagger when Providence guard Sharaud Curry hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 17 seconds left against USF.
But senior point guard Chris Howard, beaten on the shot, looked upcourt and fired a pass at midcourt to a streaking Dominique Jones. Jones hit a go-ahead layup as he was fouled by Curry, who then got a technical foul for slamming the ball down in frustration.
Jones hit all three free throws, and the Bulls held on for a wild 99-93 win against the Friars before a crowd of 5,061 in the Sun Dome.
"Shots are made like (Curry's), and everyone just stops," Howard explained after scoring 20 himself. "The crowd, they're just stunned. So I was thinking, hurry up and get that ball. I knew Dominique was ready to go, that's him in transition, so I threw him the ball. He got fouled, finished the play. The rest is history."
That sequence typified the night for USF: very little defense but heady play and clutch free throws.
"Chris Howard made a heck of a play," coach Stan Heath said. "(He) and Dominique, it seems they've been playing together forever. … Normally, you might want to call a timeout, set up the last play. I said, 'No, let it go.' If Dominique got it, it's one-on-one, possibly one-on-two, something good was going to happen."
Jones scored 10 of his 26 in the final four minutes, and he had plenty of help. Augustus Gilchrist had 21 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and Mike Mercer added 18 points. Providence got 26 each from Curry and forward Jamine Peterson, losing despite hitting 50 percent of its shots and committing just six turnovers.
The Bulls (17-11, 7-9 Big East) completed a season sweep of Providence (12-16, 4-12), but it wasn't easy. In the first meeting on Jan. 23, USF rallied from nine points down in the final 40 seconds, winning 109-105 in overtime. This one had a similar rally, with USF down nine with 6:40 to play and outrunning the Friars in the last stretch.
The Bulls won the game on free throws: Jones went 14-for-16, part of a 32-for-38 performance at the line compared with Providence's 11-for-22 showing. After losing four of five games, the Bulls can pick up some momentum with a winnable game Wednesday at DePaul before returning home for the regular-season finale March 6 against Connecticut.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.