NEW YORK CITY – For 37 minutes it appeared certain the season would be extended. South Florida led Seton Hall 37-29 on Tuesday. On the Basketball State website, games in the 50 possession area are labeled ‘excruciating’. There had to be some new adjectives coming as the pace in this contest was in the forties. No problem for South Florida coach Stan Heath who favors a deliberate tempo and was in control.
The eight point deficit in the Madison Square Garden Big East Tournament opener felt like eighteen. Points were at a premium. Then the undermanned Pirates came alive. They scored the game’s last eight points to force overtime. In the extra session they took the final lead with 55 seconds to play en route to the 46-42 decision. Seton Hall would advance to face Syracuse. South Florida would go home with a 12-19 record.
The season was a disappointment to Heath. Coming off an NCAA appearance a year ago, the Bulls went through a reversal of fortune. Heath calls the Big East, “ridiculously good.” In the middle of the season there were heartbreaking losses as the one at Rutgers and UConn in overtime. There was a win over Georgetown. Still, too little on the win side. Too much disappointment in close contests.
A team facing adversity of that nature can easily pack it in. Heath was proud and encouraged that his group, starting just one senior, stayed with it and finished in an encouraging manner. Down the stretch the Bulls defeated DePaul and UConn before losing an overtime contest at Cincinnati on Senior Day.
The game seemingly mirrored the South Florida season. There was the encouraging start, similar to the Bulls winning eight of their first 11 games. Then the challenges, like the Big East opposition. Finally, the stretch where South Florida came up short but did not give in, a lot like the way their season finished.
If anything upset Heath it was shot selection. “The wrong guys shooting in the stretch and attempting too many threes,” he said. The encouraging part was how his team hustled running the floor and coming up with 27 offensive rebounds. As Heath pointed out, rebounding is hustle and hard work. “We were not a good rebounding team,’ he said, “but we worked hard tonight.”
In the stretch South Florida had no answer for Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin, whom Heath calls “a great player, very underrated.” Edwin was there for a succession of big buckets for the Hall and hit the layup with just under a minute to go in overtime that put the Hall ahead to stay.
On his end Heath had to be encouraged with the play of sophomore point guard Anthony Collins with nine assists. Collins threaded the needle in almost artistic fashion on a few passes to baseline cutters against the Seton Hall zone. Freshman forward Zach Leday led the Bulls with 13 points and a game high 15 boards (7 on the offensive end).
The season is now history. Heath looks ahead. On board is young talent, some of which previously noted. Heath also feels recruiting has addressed areas the Bulls are weak in (front court manpower and depth is one). “I think we are going forward,” Heath said. “We are going to have a great future.”
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