For the second time this season, South Florida went down to the wire with Southern Mississippi. And for the second time this season, the Bulls came up short.
USM held on for a 68-67 Metro Conference victory Saturday when USF guard Robert Polk's 30-footer with two seconds left kicked hard off the backboard, and neither Jerome Robinson nor Jesse Salters could control the tip.
"We escaped," USM coach M.
K. Turk said. "I thought South Florida outplayed us, but we were fortunate enough to win."
For USF, (15-10, 2-9) it was another helping of hard luck against USM. Two weeks ago, Damien Smith's two free throws with two seconds left clinched USM's 73-68 victory in Tampa.
USF lost for the seventh time in eight games. The loss was the Bulls' fifth straight in conference play, sealing the Bulls in the cellar and guaranteeing them seventh seed in the Metro Tournament.
USM (13-10, 5-5) snapped a two-game losing streak and stayed in fourth place in the Metro.
Salters, who spent four hours early Saturday morning being treated for a stomach virus at Forrest General Hospital, had putback baskets on consecutive possessions to cut the lead to 68-67 with 42 seconds to play.
Haslett, who scored a game-high 19 points, missed a three-pointer, and Robinson rebounded. The ball went to USF point guard Chucky Atkins, who was fouled hard by Sam Jones.
USF coach Bobby Paschal wanted an intentional foul call, which would have put Atkins at the free-throw line. He didn't get it, and because the foul was USM's fifth of the half the Bulls had to inbound the ball 50 feet from the basket with three seconds to play.
"That just as easily could have been called an intentional foul," Paschal said. "Why foul in that situation otherwise? Unfortunately, it was a bad break for us."
The ball came into Polk just over the half-court line. He never got a good look at the basket with USM's 6-foot-9 center Glen Whisby in his way, and his one-handed heave went off the backboard to the right of the rim, but neither Salters nor Robinson could handle the rebound.
"It was a hard ball to handle," Salters said. "All we could do was try and tip it back up because we couldn't get control of it."