TAMPA, Fla. —- Viva Las Vegas, baby!
University of South Florida basketball coach Stan Heath celebrated his 49th birthday Tuesday night by watching his team go into double-overtime before he could blow out the candles burning on top of his cake. He watched the Bulls with one eye closed and fingers crossed against Florida Gulf Coast University but the Bulls prevailed with a 68-66, in the opening game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic in the Sun Dome.
Win or lose Thursday night, the Bulls will be on a plane Friday to Las Vegas, Nevada to continue the classic at the Orleans Arena against Mississippi State University but first before the bags get packed the Bulls have to get by a pesky Florida A&M University team that knows how to score points.
Junior guard for the Bulls, Corey Allen Jr. led his team to a 73-70, victory when he sunk a three point basket from deep in the right corner. Allen’s playmaking and shooting caused a problem for Florida A&M University basketball coach Clemon Johnson and Allen should be a name that Johnson will remember, the rest of the season.
“No such thing as a moral victory, no such thing,” Johnson said. “We have been playing hard like this all year and we just got to find someone to finish the game for us and that is were we are. Never question officials they are always right, if you want to believe that, good officiating tonight, can‘t blame the officiating for anything. We have to learn how to finish a ballgame.”
“We got a little eager, I guess on the defensive end,” Johnson said about the last seconds of the game. “I can’t think of the guys name, he hit the big three at the end of the ball game because (Victor) Rudd was kicking our behind.”
Allen Jr. finished the game leading all scores with 22 points and he also pulled in six rebounds for the Bulls.
“Corey carried us in a big way,” Heath said. “He got things going, especially in the first half.”
Rudd scored 19 points and the biggest assist of this season happen when he drove to the basket and then passed the ball to a wide open Allen for the three points.
Rudd said he was going into the basket and he was going to take the shot but he saw Allen Jr. waving his arms and calling for the ball.
“I was going to shoot it, no doubt it,” Rudd said. “I either was getting to the basket and then pull up but his man came to me and I seen him in the corner. He had his hands like this, way up in the air and he wanted the ball, so I gave it to him.”
Heath said that it was a big step for Rudd because he knew he wanted to take the shot.
“I told our guys to help but I didn’t tell them, just to leave his man all together in the corner,” Johnson said. “Small things in nature and that is what I mean about finishing a ballgame.”
Heath might have been concern about the Bulls looking ahead and right past Florida A&M University.
“I wish that I could explain my team,” Heath said after the game. “Florida A&M out hustled, out worked us, out scrapped us, it hurts me in my heart to say that but we slipped out with the win.”
In the first half, the Rattlers shot 46.7 percent from beyond the arch, out hustled the Bulls to lose ball before the Bulls could get control and USF shot 65 percent from the free throw line while making 20 trips to the line. but the Bulls left the floor at halftime tied 37-37.
The Rattlers finished the game shooting 41.7 percent from behind the arch, pulled down 39 rebounds and forced the Bulls into 12 turnovers.
“Three big things on the scouting report,” Heath said about what he expected from the Rattlers. “They did them. We did not stop them. We knew that they were going to shot threes, their guards all shoot almost over 30 percent and they got 24 off. We knew that they were going to run and shoot quickly and get into transition. We knew that they were going to get offensive rebound and we knew that they were going to play hard.”
Heath said that he is frustrated with the Bulls intensity, getting to the boards and he said that he was embarrassed by the effort on the court by the Bulls especially in the first half.
“We are going through some learning phase, some growing pains, my freshman kind of disappeared tonight,” Heath said. “Coaches understand the freshman are going to be that way some times.”
Heath needed the Bulls to have a good beginning to the second half, it did not start well for the Bulls but with Rudd and Allen Jr. leading the offense, forward Martino Brock took the charge playing defense helped the Bulls stay focused on the court.
Brock finished the game with just six points but with just four seconds left in the game, Brock stood his ground and Florida A&M guard Reggie Lewis charged into him and was whistled for the foul.
“It took guts for the referee to call that, the three point shot is a great equalizer, they shot them, they made them,” Heath said. “We did a much better job in the second half but our rebounding just collapsed. Just way too many second chances points, that is just effort plays.”
Now the Bulls, will be in the city were it is always- show time, where neon and glitter sparkles like fresh snow on a mountain top and there are plenty of distraction to keep many a young man entertained.
Heath said, this is just another road trip and many of his players have visited Las Vegas so it is not much of a big deal.
He also said, that he would be educating his players about keeping their minds on the business of basketball.
The first order of business to take care of, will take place Sunday night, December 22, at 8pm, Eastern Standard Time against Mississippi State University before the match up between either Santa Clara University or the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Monday night, December 23,2013.
Sometime when you go to Las Vegas it is better to be lucky than good and against the Rattlers, Heath knows that the Bulls were lucky to get the victory at home.
Hopefully, when the Bulls leave Friday from Tampa International Airport that Lady Luck has packed a few nice things and will be joining the Bulls in Las Vegas.
About the Author
Written by Mel Suiter
Graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2002 and have been working as a beat writer for The Ypsilanti Courier covering Eastern Michigan University football and men's basketball during my school career and after graduation. I like the Mid-American Conference and the rest of the mid-major conferences.