TAMPA ― Considering the length of its injury report and the impending start of American Athletic Conference play, USF’s Sunday afternoon home matchup with FAU provided little benefit from a physical standpoint.
But psychologically, it represented the soothing salve the Bulls desperately needed.
Coming off consecutive close defeats to quality foes (Utah State and FSU), the short-handed Bulls (7-6) got 10 consecutive points down the stretch from sophomore wing Zack Dawson to rally for a 60-58 victory before a Yuengling Center audience of 2,707.
FAU led by seven before Dawson’s flurry, which occurred in a 2:24 span in the final 3½ minutes and highlighted an 11-2 Bulls run to close the game.
“I was able to get it going toward the end of the game,” said Dawson, an Oklahoma State transfer who finished with a career-high 18 points. “Coach (Brian Gregory) just told me out of the time-out (with 4:29 to go) to just be aggressive and play my game, and that’s what I did to help my team win.”
Playing without top scorer David Collins (ankle), 6-foot-10 senior Antun Maricevic (ankle) and 6-6 sophomore Rashun Williams (leg), the Bulls shot 50 percent from the floor (12-for-24) in the first half and led by nine at intermission.
But the Owls (8-5) hit seven of their first nine shots in the second half, and USF went nearly six full minutes without a field goal. Point guard Xavier Castaneda’s 3-pointer from the left wing midway through the half only momentarily ended the funk as the Owls answered with a 15-4 surge that gave them a 56-49 lead.
From there, Dawson went to work, first with a 3-pointer from the left wing, then a transition layup following a turnover. His 3-pointer from the right with 2:09 to play gave the Bulls a 57-56 lead.
He closed his surge 54 seconds later with a mid-range jumper following a blocked shot on the other end by Bulls 7-footer Michael Durr.
Durr had two of his three blocks in the final 1:43. Freshman B.J. Mack added a career-best 10 points ― including a pair of 3-pointers ― off the bench.
“We didn’t play great today, but the grit and the toughness, and facing adversity and the way we finished it, was every bit as important to how well you played,” Gregory said. “It speaks for where we’re at and what our guys believe in.”