By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002
TAMPA -- South Florida held a one-point lead over Tulane when the teams emerged from a timeout with five minutes left Saturday at the Sun Dome.
It was a precarious position against one of Conference USA's best road teams. A season on the brink was teetering in the wrong direction. The Bulls didn't flinch.
Sparked by sophomore Jimmy Baxter, USF executed almost flawlessly the rest of the way and surged to a 76-65 victory. It was the second straight victory, both at home, for USF (16-7, 6-4). The Bulls moved within 11/2 games of Charlotte for fourth overall in C-USA and an opening-round bye at the league tournament.
"I thought we showed some toughness. It was a grind," USF coach Seth Greenberg said. "You've got to find a way to tough some things out, compete and grind. That's what February is all about." In a game of spurts, USF made the final one. It stay poised and forced five turnovers in its aggressive 1-3-1 defense in the final five minutes.
"We were right where we wanted to be," Tulane coach Shawn Finney said. "(USF) had some critical baskets off turnovers down the stretch."
Baxter (six points, four steals), coming off his best all-around game in Tuesday's victory over UAB, made two free throws with 4:54 left to put the Bulls up 62-59.
Then B.B. Waldon made a steal, threw it ahead to Altron Jackson (team-highs 22 points and eight rebounds), who passed to Baxter for a flying, one-handed jam that roused the crowd of 5,526 and put the Bulls up by five.
"Down three, the turnover and dunk kind of broke our back," Finney said.
Baxter made a steal on the next possession and started a fastbreak that was aborted. Instead, USF worked the shot clock down, and Reggie Kohn found Will McDonald (18 points, seven rebounds) for a short basket to put the Bulls up seven.
Tulane (12-9, 4-6) did not get closer the rest of the way, and free throws by Jackson, McDonald and Kohn helped seal it. Kohn's 3-point shooting helped the Bulls race ahead in the first half and prevented them from falling far behind early in the second. With USF down 19-17, Kohn made back-to-back 3s to ignite a 10-0 run. But Tulane countered with a 13-0 run and led 34-31 at intermission.
Waitari Marsh made two quick layups to open the second half as the Green Wave threatened to pull away.
Kohn (17 points, 5-for-7 3-pointers) answered with a 3-pointer, and he made another to pull USF within 44-42. There were six ties or lead changes from there.
Greenberg, who has laryngitis, pulled himself off the sick bed -- "I've got a pocket full of Halls," he said -- to coach the game, and he exuded confidence in the locker room even though the Bulls trailed at halftime.
"He told us we're all right; that we're going to win this thing by 10," McDonald said. "And that's what we did."
With starting forward Greg Brittian (possible foot stress fracture) out Tuesday, Baxter played a career-high 27 minutes and scored 13. Baxter played 26 minutes Saturday (Brittian played briefly), and his performance was nondescript until he provided the boost down the stretch.
"Jimmy Baxter was very good in anticipating (in the 1-3-1)," Greenberg said. "He was very active and quick."
Brandon Brown led Tulane with 23 points. Marsh added 17 and Brandon Spann 13, but the guards combined for 12 turnovers.