One game after getting benched and sitting out the first 11 minutes of an eventual 26-point loss to Louisville, Victor Rudd and Jawanza Poland regained their old form in the second half on Thursday night.
Still, in the end, the night ended in typical frustrating fashion for South Florida.
The Bulls lost 70-67 to Rutgers, as Martino Brock missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent it into overtime.
USF fell to 9-7 and 0-4 in the Big East. The Bulls, the only conference team without a victory, return to action Saturday when they host Georgetown at the Sun Dome.
Trailing 68-60 with 3:30 remaining, Rudd made a 3-pointer from the left wing. On the Bulls' next possession, Poland scored on an alley-oop, cutting the deficit to two points.
USF had another chance with less than a minute left, down 70-67, but Brock made a poor entry pass for a turnover. After Rutgers guard Jerome Seagears missed a 3-pointer on the other end, Poland grabbed the rebound with seven seconds remaining. Brock then shot from the left wing, a few feet behind the 3-point line, but his shot caromed off the rim.
Poland came off the bench for the second consecutive game, entering five minutes into the contest. He finished with a game-high 17 points, including 15 in the second half. Rudd returned to the starting lineup and added 11 points.
Victor Collins also had 11, while freshman JaVontae Hawkins scored 10.
Hawkins, rated among the Top 100 recruits by ESPN and CBS last year, missed five games because of a back injury before returning to the lineup on Jan. 2. Still, he played only three and nine minutes in his first two games back, and then scored a season-high nine points in 23 minutes against Louisville.
Hawkins took advantage of his opportunity Thursday, scoring eight points in 18 first-half minutes as USF took a 30-27 lead at intermission. Hawkins displayed his athleticism, too.
With 11:39 remaining, Collins stood several feet beyond the 3-point line, raised a finger, looked toward the hoop and lofted a pass, throwing a perfect alley-oop to Hawkins to put the Bulls up by three points. Rutgers coach Mike Rice immediately called timeout.
Last month, the Scarlet Knights suspended Rice for three games and fined him $50,000 for inappropriate behavior. Since his Dec. 29 return, Rutgers had split its four games entering Thursday, defeating Pittsburgh and St. John's and losing at Syracuse and Cincinnati.
USF also started with four consecutive conference losses during the 2009-10 season before rebounding to finish 20-13 overall, 9-9 in the Big East.