MEMPHIS — The pain continued to the end for the USF Bulls, whose late comeback fell short in a 72-68 loss to Rutgers on Wednesday in the opening game of the American Athletic Conference's inaugural tournament.
The Bulls closed an 11-point deficit to one late in the game and were down 70-68 with six seconds left. But after a missed free throw by Rutgers' Kadeem Jack, J.J. Moore won the rebound battle with Victor Rudd, who fouled out with 22 points and seven rebounds in his USF finale. Moore hit two free throws and sealed the Bulls' ninth straight loss.
Both teams are 12-20, but it is Rutgers that will face top seed Louisville (26-5) in today's quarterfinals. And with USF's new athletic director, Mark Harlan, coming on board, the future of coach Stan Heath is very much up in the air.
"All I can do is keep doing my job, look for ways to improve this team and figure ways to help the good players we have get better," Heath said. "(Wednesday) was a microcosm of a lot of what's gone on. A missed shot, a missed chance to make a play."
Four Rutgers players finished in double figures, led by Jack's 18 points. Moore scored 13 and was 8-of-11 from the line, including 5-of-6 in the final 30 seconds. The last two came after his climactic offensive rebound over a passive Rudd.
"It wasn't a pretty game. We missed a lot of layups and had some turnovers, but our demeanor and the way we held together was pretty," said Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan, whose team heads to the Big Ten next season. "We've been preaching that all year. … We didn't point fingers or break down."
It looked as though the Knights were set to pull away. After a 10-2 run to start the second half, a layup by Jack made it 58-47 with 10:28 left. But Wally Judge, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds and dominated the defensive glass, got his fourth foul with 8:33 left then fouled out with five to play.
The Bulls got as close as 59-58 on a dunk by freshman Chris Perry with five minutes left.
As it has most of the season, the absence of point guard Anthony Collins loomed large.
"In the last five minutes of a game he could really take over," said Rudd, who added that Heath had done a good job of keeping the uncertainty of his situation away from the players. "He never discussed it and never let us think about it."