TAMPA — A disappointing regular season ended with a boom for the University of South Florida on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulls, trendy picks in November to possibly make a return to the postseason, limped to a 66-65 loss to Temple on Senior Day, dropping them to the No. 10 seed in the 10-team American Athletic Conference tournament. With a win, USF would’ve been the No. 8 seed.
USF (12-19, 3-15) led the Owls 54-36 with 9 minutes to play before an epic collapse saw Temple’s Quenton DeCosey score the winning basket with a baseline runner at the buzzer.
Chris Perry had given USF a one-point lead on a putback with 4.6 seconds left, but Temple took a timeout and ran the length of the floor and found DeCosey for the game-winner. Officials reviewed the shot but determined it was released before the clock expired.
“I thought our body language, our energy in our face, we were just kind of stunned,” USF coach Stan Heath said of his team’s demeanor during the final few minutes. “That kind of concerned me. I told them, ‘Guys, it’s OK. They’re making a run. We can put this out.’”
During the final nine minutes, USF shot 5-for-17 from the floor. During the same period, Temple (9-21, 4-14) shot 12-for-14.
“You could say (this was one of the toughest losses of my career,” USF forward Victor Rudd said. “Just because we were up (18) and lost on a buzzer-beater.”
This wasn’t USF’s first late-game collapse of the season.
“I was thinking, ‘Not again,’ ” guard Martino Brock said. “We’ve lost about five games like that. I was like, ‘Dang. This is the story of our season.’ We lost a lot of close games, buzzer-beaters, games we were supposed to win, home games.”
Two seasons ago, USF and Temple — then a member of the Atlantic 10 — met each other in the second round of the NCAA tournament. USF won that game, 58-44.
Saturday, they met as the two worst teams in their league, fighting over who would be seeded last in the conference tournament. Rudd was the only Bull to play in both games.
“I remember that game like it was yesterday,” Rudd said. “... I’ll remember this game even more.”
Corey Allen Jr. led the Bulls with 18 points off the bench. Brock had 16 and Rudd added 13.
With a 20-loss season on the horizon, Heath faces questions about job security. He has four years left on his contract and would be owed $1.5 million were he to be fired once USF hires its new athletics director.
“There are pieces in place here that are really, really good. (Freshmen) John (Egbunu) and Chris (Perry) have the chance to be all-conference players. With (Anthony) Collins back, you’ll have one of the best point guards in the league,” Heath said.
“Add some 3-point shooting to this mix and you don’t have the deficiencies from the outside that we have now. There are so many good pieces, I’d hate to see us not stay the course.”
USF will open the AAC tournament in Memphis, Tenn., at 7 p.m. Wednesday against seventh-seeded Rutgers. USF lost both meetings with Rutgers in the regular season.
TEMPLE (9-21) — Pepper 8-13 2-2 20, DeCosey 7-14 3-4 18, Cummings 5-9 4-5 14, Lee 2-6 1-1 5, Watson 0-5 2-2 2, Williams 2-6 0-0 4, Brown 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 25-55 13-16 66.
SOUTH FLORIDA (12-19) — Brock 6-12 4-7 16, Rudd 5-19 2-2 13, Egbunu 2-3 0-0 4, McLendon 1-7 0-0 2, Heath 0-2 0-0 0, Allen Jr. 7-10 1-3 18, LeDay 3-5 2-4 8, Perry 2-8 0-0 4. Totals 26-66 9-16 65.
Halftime—South Florida 33-26. 3-Point Goals—Temple 3-11 (Pepper 2-4, DeCosey 1-4, Williams 0-1, Cummings 0-2), South Florida 4-10 (Allen Jr. 3-4, Rudd 1-3, Heath 0-1, McLendon 0-1, LeDay 0-1). Rebounds—Temple 43 (Pepper 8), South Florida 33 (Rudd 8). Assists—Temple 14 (Cummings 8), USF 15 (Allen Jr. 5). Total Fouls—Temple 13, USF 15. A—4,073.