It’s not often that blocked shot almost costs you a game — but it almost did for the USF Bulls on Saturday night in its match-up with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Trailing by two with four seconds left in the second half, Alabama guard Levi Randolph drove to the hole attempting to tie the game but freshman forward John Egbunu deflected the shot right into the hands of Crimson Tide freshman forward Shannon Hale who was standing beyond the three-point line.
Fortunately for the Bulls, unlike Corey Allen’s last-minute shot against George Mason, the three-point attempt rimmed out and the Bulls were able to escape with at 66-64 victory in front of 4,255 at the Sun Dome.
Egbunu finished the game with seven points six rebounds and two additional blocks, but neither of those made his Bulls teammates as nervous as that final one. Chris Perry and Anthony Collins talked about the young freshman working on being able to block the shot so that the team takes control of the possession instead of giving the opponent another shot opportunity.
The Crimson Tide were led by guards Retin Obasohan, who scored 20 points on 6 of 9 shooting, and Trevor Releford’s 17 points on 7 of 15 shooting. While the guards were key in keeping the score close, the lack of a front-court presence proved to be too much to overcome as they lost the rebounding battle by seven and were outscored in the paint by four.
While the Bulls on the night struggled with allowing the Crimson Tide 12 offensive rebounds, they had 14 themselves and were led by Chris Perry’s eight. Perry finished the game with 14 total rebounds to go with 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting.
“I thought just his inside play and his rebounding gave us something we really needed,” said Coach Heath in talking about the key contribution from Perry on a night that saw the back-court duo of Corey Allen Jr. and Anthony Collins combine to shoot 5 of 12 for 16 points — Collins contributed six of those points from the free throw line late in the game when Alabama was trying to extend the game.
While they did miss the normal contribution from their starting guards, they did get a boost off the bench from senior guard Musa Abdul-Aleem. Coming into the game the Atlanta native was averaging 4.0 points per game on only 35% shooting from the field, but on the night he contributed nine points on 3 of 7 shooting with two three-pointers.
“It’s a statement that we are becoming a better team, we’re not relying on one player and other guys are stepping up,” said Coach Heath in response to the contribution made by Aleem and other bench players, “we are really developing as very good basketball team… and we are moving in the right direction.”
The team will have enough time to focus on that direction as they do not have another game until December 17th when they take on Florida Gulf Coast at the Sun Dome.