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USF hangs on to beat Alabama 66-64

TAMPA — USF nearly found itself on the other end of a crazy comeback in Saturday night's 66-64 win over Alabama.

The Bulls (6-2), who had rallied from 17 points down in a dramatic 68-66 road win over George Mason on Wednesday, almost let one slip away against the Crimson Tide (4-4).

USF held an eight-point lead with just more than two minutes left, but Alabama cut it to one in a final-minute flurry.

"I was nervous," freshman Chris Perry said. "I almost blacked out."

With the Bulls up two in the final seconds, 6-foot-10 center John Egbunu swatted a shot right back to Shannon Hale, who missed the potential winning 3-pointer before the buzzer.

"The thought goes to my head all the time, 'John, you jump so high, catch it!' " USF guard Anthony Collins quipped.

Collins helped seal the Bulls' second straight victory by going 5-of-6 from the free-throw line in the final 34 seconds.

Coach Stan Heath believes his team has grown up heading into a 10-day break.

"Anytime your team goes through close games and you have success, you gain confidence," Heath said. "We've taken a step."

Heath said Perry had his best game, matching a career high with 14 points and adding 14 rebounds. Senior Victor Rudd had 11 of his 15 points in the second half. And senior Musa Abdul-Aleem provided a lift off the bench with nine points.

The Bulls missed nine of their first 11 shots and trailed by as many as seven early but led 29-25 at the half. The Bulls' trend of slow second-half starts continued, with Alabama going on a 9-3 run to re-take the lead just five minutes in. But Aleem came through again, hitting a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Bulls back in front 38-35.

The Bulls had a five-point lead before Alabama's leading scorer, senior guard Trevor Releford (17 points), quickly erased it. Releford, held to four points in the first half, rattled off nine straight to put Alabama up 44-40 midway through the second.

But Perry played big in the final comeback. He put in an offensive rebound. He hit a left-handed hook. Then he hustled to keep a rebound alive, tipping the ball Rudd, who drove in for a three-point play, making it 53-48 USF.

"(Perry) was terrific," Heath said. "I thought his inside play, his rebounding, gave us something that we really needed."

And Egbunu, whom Heath calls their "rim protector," gave USF the biggest block in a wild finish.

Said Heath: "It could have gone either way."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow him @TBTimes_JSmith.

USF hangs on to beat Alabama 66-64 12/07/13 [Last modified: Sunday, December 8, 2013 12:07am]
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