TAMPA — When the Florida A&M Rattlers last defeated the University of South Florida in men’s basketball, it was Nov. 29, 1980.
It was the first game at the hastily prepared Sun Dome, which still had its upper deck under construction. Lee Rose made his USF coaching debut that night.
Stan Heath was a ninth-grader in Detroit.
It was a long, long time ago.
Those streaks held up after Thursday night’s game — but just barely.
USF had to scratch, claw and get a clutch, go-ahead 3-pointer from Corey Allen Jr. — off a kick-out pass from a driving Victor Rudd — with 37 seconds remaining. It allowed the Bulls to subdue the Rattlers 73-70 and avoid what would have been an inexplicable defeat.
“I wish I could explain my team,’’ said Heath, whose Bulls (8-2) have won four straight games, by a combined nine points. “Florida A&M outworked us, outscrapped us, (and) it hurts me in the heart to say that, but we still got the win.
“We were not playing hard, not giving effort, not giving energy. … I was flat-out embarrassed. We’ve had games where we couldn’t throw it in the ocean, couldn’t score, but we always bring it with effort and energy. It wasn’t there in the first half at all.’’
The Rattlers (2-9) made 10 of 24 shots from 3-point range and collected 18 offensive rebounds. Down 72-70, FAMU’s Reggie Lewis drove inside to attempt a tying basket, but he committed an offensive foul with four seconds remaining when USF’s Martino Brock got into perfect position.
The Bulls won for the second straight time in the on-campus portion of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. Now, USF actually heads to Vegas for Sunday night’s game against Mississippi State, then a Monday meeting with either UNLV or Santa Clara.
“The competition is stepping up,’’ Heath said. “Sometimes, the names on the front of the jerseys affect us. We come out too lax.’’
USF trailed for much of the game, then never got a lead of more than five points.
Rudd (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Allen (USF-high 22 points) were the key figures, especially on the game’s pivotal play.
“Rudd was kicking our behind, so I told our man to help (on defense),’’ FAMU coach Clemon Johnson said. “But I didn’t tell him to leave (Allen) open in the corner.’’
Down 70-69 in the final minute, Rudd wanted to score, either by driving to the basket or pulling up for a jumper. When the FAMU defender rotated over, Rudd found a wide-open Allen in the right corner and the 3-pointer gave USF a lead it wouldn’t lose.
Winning made everything more palatable.
Heath was still disgusted, questioning everything from effort to shot selection to the performance of freshman big men John Egbunu (nine points, three rebounds) and Chris Perry (three points, eight rebounds, 1-for-7 from the field).
“The freshmen really kind of disappeared tonight,’’ Heath said. “We need those guys to be factors for us. If they’re not, we’re struggling.’’
Heath’s exasperation reached a peak during a second-half possession, when FAMU missed five shots, got five offensive rebounds and finished with a dunk by Walter Davis.
“Five? I thought it was 10 (offensive rebounds),’’ Heath said. “If you could only read my mind what I was thinking on that one. I wish I could’ve subbed the whole team out and put in Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daffy, anybody in there. It was just ridiculous. They got shot after shot after shot.’’
USF dodged the bullet, though. But just barely.
FLORIDA A&M (2-9) — Bradshaw 3-7 0-0 7, Odi 0-0 0-0 0, Spiller 3-7 0-0 9, Bullard 2-7 0-2 5, Davis 2-2 0-0 4, Rozier 1-3 0-0 3, Adams 4-9 6-8 16, Lewis 3-9 0-0 8, Abdul-Aleem 1-3 0-2 2, Crawford 0-4 0-0 0, King 4-6 0-0 8, Kellum 4-9 0-0 8. Totals 27-66 6-12 70.
SOUTH FLORIDA (8-2) — Rudd 8-14 3-4 19, Perry 1-7 1-2 3, Egbunu 3-3 3-4 9, Allen Jr. 9-14 2-4 22, Collins 0-0 2-4 2, Brock 1-4 4-4 6, LeDay 1-3 0-0 3, Hawkins 3-6 3-4 9. Totals 26-51 18-26 73.
Halftime—Tied 37-37. 3-Point Goals—Florida A&M 10-24 (Spiller 3-4, Adams 2-5, Lewis 2-7, Rozier 1-2, Bradshaw 1-3, Bullard 1-3), South Florida 3-8 (Allen Jr. 2-3, LeDay 1-1, Rudd 0-2, Hawkins 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Florida A&M 39 (Davis, King 5), South Florida 35 (Rudd 10). Assists—Florida A&M 15 (Adams 5), South Florida 15 (Collins 8). Total Fouls—Florida A&M 21, South Florida 12. A—3,433.