South Florida Basketball Notebook

The Sports Xchange takes a look at South Florida going into its home game with Pitt Sunday at 1 p.m.

GETTING INSIDE Can the Bulls get to .500 in the Big East? That's where they need to be to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Stop snickering -- this team has the talent to achieve such a lofty goal.

Of course, it won't be easy. The Bulls next face two ranked teams, including Pittsburgh Sunday at 1 p.m. at home. South Florida needs to get a split in those two games, and the Panthers at home is the game to steal. Wednesday at Georgetown could be a more difficult assignment.

The Bulls are playing well and competing in the tough Big East without one of their top two players, 6-foot-10 forward Augustus Gilchrist. The sophomore is expected back in the next few weeks after sustaining a severe ankle sprain.

USF could use him back on the floor for a lot of reasons. The Bulls had three guys play more than 40 minutes Thursday, and only Anthony Crater played significant minutes off the bench.

So, get a split against the ranked teams and hopefully Gilchrist is ready to go. And the schedule isn't daunting. After the next two, Syracuse, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Georgetown don't show up anymore -- and that's a good thing.

This team is playing with a lot of confidence. The squad it just beat, Seton Hall, just beat Pittsburgh. And the Panthers struggled at home Thursday against St. John's.

Splitting the upcoming two games is a very difficult assignment, but not impossible. Especially with Dominique Jones on the team.

SOUTH FLORIDA 76 SETON HALL 74 (OT): South Florida won back-to-back Big East games for the first time, needing overtime both times to make USF history.

USF, which defeated Providence in OT Sunday, improved to 13-7 overall, 3-5 in the Big East. Seton Hall, which had won two straight, fell to 12-7, 3-5.

Dominique Jones led the Bulls in scoring but didn't need to score 46 points as he did in last weekend's win over the Friars. The junior guard finished with 28 points, hitting 10 of 11 from the free-throw line.

Jones scored six points in overtime, and Chris Howard gave the Bulls the lead for good with a layup with 38 seconds to play. USF held Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell (28 points) scoreless in overtime.

NOTES, QUOTES --Broadcaster Al Michaels once asked, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!''

The University of South Florida certainly believes in miracles after its win against Providence.

Trailing 92-83 with just 45 seconds left in regulation, the Bulls forced overtime when Toarlyn Fitzpatrick sank a 3-point shot with 0.2 seconds left, just his second 3-point basket of the season. Then the Bulls went on to a 109-105 victory.

Guard Dominique Jones scored a school record 46 points, two points shy of the Big East record set by Providence's Eric Murdock in 1991 against Pitt.

Jones score 33 of those points after halftime and more than doubled his average, which was 19.6 and third in the Big East before the game.

But it was the victory that mattered the most for a team that is starved for road wins and playing short-handed with its best big man, Gus Gilchrist, out with an injury.

"I think it was better for us to get a win like this to show us as a team that we can play through adversity no matter what,'' Fitzpatrick told the St. Petersburg Times. "The fact that it was on the road was a definite plus for us because it's hard to get a road win in the Big East. Now that we know what it feels like, maybe we'll decide to do it more often.''

"This was a gutty performance by our basketball team,'' USF coach Stan Jones told the Tampa Tribune. "They never gave up. They kept fighting.''

--While scoring 46 points against Providence, G Dominique Jones hit 15 of 23 field goals and 14 of 18 free throws. He is averaging 28.5 points over the past five games.

--All five starters scored in double figures for South Florida in the overtime victory over Providence.

--By scoring 109 points against Providence, USF topped its previous season high in points by 31.

--G Mike Mercer reached a season high with 19 points against Providence, his third straight game reaching double figures.

ON THE SPOT: The Bulls are finding success on the boards -- despite playing with only two forwards. The Bulls had grabbed more rebounds than their opponent in three straight games and four of the last five before hosting the Pirates. Seton Hall ended up on top, 37-33, but the Bulls hit the boards hard, with four players recording at least four rebounds.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He scores in every way you can score. He moves without the basketball as well as anybody in our league. With the basketball, he creates his own shot and he also gets other people shots and he does it without forcing a lot of stuff. He's a highly productive player that doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He takes very few tough shots and doesn't turn the ball over a lot.'' -- Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, before Jones went off and scored a school-record 46 points against Providence.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL SEASON RECAP: The Bulls have shown great improvement over a year ago and would have taken a giant step forward had they been able to keep F Gus Gilchrist healthy. However, they are an attraction with G Dominique Jones, who may be the best pure scorer in the conference.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- PG Chris Howard, G Dominique Jones, G Mike Mercer, F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, F Jarrid Famous. Key Sub -- G Anthony Crater.

GAME REVIEW: South Florida 73, Rutgers 64 Cincinnati 78, South Florida 70 South Florida 109, Providence 105 (OT) South Florida 76, Seton Hall 74 (OT)

GAME PREVIEW: vs. Pitt, Sunday at Georgetown, Wednesday, Feb. 3 at Notre Dame, Sunday, Feb. 7 at Marquette, Saturday, Feb. 13

IN FOCUS: G Anthony Crater, a transfer who became eligible with the start of the second semester, is playing more and working his way into the picture. In the overtime win over Providence he played 29 minutes after playing 32 minutes against Cincinnati. He had yet to make much of an impact, shooting just 6-for-27 from the field and 2-for-21 from 3-point range in those games. He does, however, provide depth, which is badly needed by South Florida.

ROSTER REPORT: --Junior G Dominique Jones, who is 17th in the country with his 21 points-per-game average, increased that number Thursday with 28 points (9-of-16 shooting) in the overtime win over Seton Hall. Jones was coming off a game in which he scored a school-record 46 points.

--G Mike Mercer scored 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting in the win over Providence, but the senior struggled against the Pirates. In 29 minutes, he made only three of seven shots and ended up with six points. He did have four rebounds and three steals.

--F Jarrid Famous continues to play well in the middle for the Bulls. The 6-foot-11 junior finished with 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting Thursday. He also grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds. Famous had 17 points and seven rebounds against the Friars last weekend.

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