TAMPA — If USF keeps prevailing like this, coach Stan Heath won't just need a bracketologist. He'll need a cardiologist.
Depending on one's perspective, the Bulls (8-2) either played down to their opposition or up to their propensity for high drama, or both, Thursday against Florida A&M. Either way, their 73-70 victory was their fourth in a row by one possession. That hasn't happened for this program since 1979.
Only the latest escape left Heath far more flummoxed and, at times, furious than inspired.
"I wish I could explain our team, but I can't," said Heath, whose squad boards a plane this morning for Las Vegas, where it faces Mississippi State on Sunday in the third round of the Las Vegas Classic. "Florida A&M outhustled us, outworked us, outscrapped us. It hurts me to my heart to say that, but we slipped out with the win."
Two nights after needing double overtime and a waved-off buzzer-beater to defeat Florida Gulf Coast 68-66, and before that Alabama 66-64 and George Mason 68-66, the Bulls got a baseline 3-pointer from Corey Allen (career-high 22 points) with 37 seconds to play to put them ahead 72-70.
Senior Victor Rudd (19 points, 10 rebounds), who had committed a turnover 14 seconds before, set up the winning shot by penetrating, drawing Allen's defender and dishing it to the junior at the right baseline.
"(Allen) hit the big 3 … because Rudd was kicking our behind," FAMU coach and ex-NBA journeyman Clemon Johnson said. "I told the guys to help (on Rudd), but I didn't tell them just to leave their man altogether in the corner."
The Rattlers' ensuing possession ended with USF's Martino Brock drawing a Reggie Lewis charge on the left block with four seconds to play.
For a team that failed to assert itself at the outset, it was an ironic finish.
FAMU (2-8) hit 7 of 10 3-pointers in the first half, which ended tied at 37. The Rattlers never relented on the offensive glass, finishing with an 18-10 advantage.
A microcosm of the game transpired early in the second half, when the Rattlers snagged five offensive boards on the same possession before Walter Davis finished things with a dunk.
At that point, "I wish I could've subbed the whole team out and put Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daffy, anybody in there," Heath said. "It was just ridiculous."
In the end, the Bulls did what they've been doing the past two weeks: find a way.
"At the end of the day it's not going to say we won by one or two or 25 or 30," Heath said. "It's going to say 'W.' "
Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected]com or (813) 226-3350. Follow him on Twitter at @ TBTimes_Bulls.