TAMPA – During his postgame media session USF coach Brian Gregory noted that as he was walking off the court at halftime a fan said his team’s performance in the opening 20 minutes was an embarrassment.
Anybody who saw the opening half would have agreed wholeheartedly.
At one point the Bulls fell behind Stony Brook 48-23 and seemed rather disinterested. Yet, the team that came out for the second half was an entirely different group.
Focus and determination were noticeable and the results followed suit in what was an 82-79 overtime victory over the Seawolves (24-9) in a first-round CBI matchup at the Yuengling Center on Wednesday night.
The Bulls, who improved to 20-13 for their first 20-win season since 2011-12, host Utah Valley on Monday night (7:00) in second-round matchup. The Wolverines (25-9) finished second in the Western Athletic Conference.
“I was as surprised as anybody in the arena the way we played in the first half,” said Gregory, who got emotional at times during his press conference. “We got hit by a couple of haymakers and kind of regrouped in the last couple minutes of the first half to cut it to 18. I got on the guys pretty good at halftime.”
The Bulls, who trailed 48-30 at the half, started to turn the tables late in the first half by scoring the final seven points. That jumpstarted a 33-8 run to pull even at 56, which they did on Michael Durr’s jumper in the paint with 6:24 remaining in the second half.
With the score tied at 66 and the final seconds of the second half ticking away with Stony Brook in possession, David Collins stole the ball from Jaron Cornish and raced the length of the floor. With a couple of Seawolves in pursuit, the sophomore guard had to alter his shot. His layup was good, but just after the buzzer.
Undeterred, Collins’ three-pointer opened the scoring in overtime and his three free throws in the final seconds of the extra session sealed a memorable comeback victory.
“We didn’t want this to be our last game,” said Collins, who established career highs with 31 points and seven steals. “We wanted to go out better than that. We knew we had to fight to get back into the game.”
Fight they did and the victory was the Bulls’ 15th at home this season to equal the school record. The 1980-81 and 1982-83 teams also won 15 at home.
More importantly, it was yet another example of how this team has dug deep time and time again. This time it was in their first postseason appearance since 2012 (NCAA tourney), which made it special.
“It was about heart and grit, sticking together and finding out a way,” said Gregory. “Give our guys credit. I am as proud of this team as any team I have ever coached.”