TAMPA — For those convinced USF had forgotten how to coach, shoot and compete in the wake of its most humiliating defeat of the season, the Bulls spent Saturday offering a fairly resounding rebuttal.
They just couldn't close their case.
Senior Isaiah Sykes' left-handed runner near the left block with 1.8 seconds to play lifted UCF to a 75-74 triumph, atoning for a one-point overtime loss to USF in Orlando 10 days earlier.
Martino Brock's ensuing desperation shot just inside halfcourt bounced off the back of the rim, leaving most in the Sun Dome crowd of 5,294 deflated, which still beats despondent. Three nights earlier, USF (12-14, 3-10 American Athletic Conference) had been embarrassed, 83-40, at Connecticut on national TV.
"I'm sure (fans) were worried about, 'Are they still gonna battle and still gonna fight?' Hopefully that answered the questions for our fans," said coach Stan Heath, whose team scrapped through 10 lead changes and enjoyed one of its best shooting efforts (49.1 percent).
"I know morale-wise, those guys are gonna hurt from this loss, and they should; I am, too. But it's just a part of the season. You've got to bounce back, and you've got to keep fighting."
Any fears about a UConn hangover were answered in less than four minutes, when the worst 3-point shooting team in Division I got two treys from guard Corey Allen.
USF finished with six 3s (its most in a league game this season), a 31-30 rebounding edge and a career game from Brock (21 points), whose array of baseline shots and putbacks resulted in his most prolific day in a Bulls jersey.
But in the end, USF had few answers for Sykes, a 6-foot-6 left-hander from Detroit.
On the final Knights possession, Sykes (27 points) got a screen from 6-foot-10, 310-pound freshman Justin McBride near the top of the key and drove to the left side of the lane, where the Bulls' intended trap never materialized.
"We rolled (McBride) out into a screen, overloaded the other side and just let those two guys play together," said coach Donnie Jones, whose Knights (10-13, 2-10) snapped a nine-game skid.
Sykes' layup bounced three times off the right side of the rim before falling in.
"That's all we were talking about was trapping that," Heath said. "The angle I think (center) John (Egbunu) had just wasn't the right angle to trap. Still, it wasn't horrible. (Sykes) made a hard shot."
Preceding Sykes' winner was a foiled Bulls possession, in which Shemiye McLendon's off-balance jumper in the paint fell short. Victor Rudd (21 points), the first option, had his attempted pick-and-roll neutralized by guard Calvin Newell's ball denial.
"I thought Shemiye got deep, he got the ball where we wanted it," Heath said. "But the ball kind of slipped out of his hands at the very last second, and I think that's what changed his shot at the end."