TAMPA, Fla. -- Stetson cut an 11-point second-half deficit down to three and saw Jama Sharp’s potential game-tying three-pointer in the closing seconds hit the front of the rim and bounce out as USF hung on for a 72-68 victory Sunday afternoon at the Sun Dome.
Brianti Saunders scored 22 points and Sasha Sims added 16 for the Hatters (5-4), who had their two-game win streak come to an end.
The Bulls (5-3) led 63-52 with seven minutes remaining when Sharp knocked in a three-ball as the shot clock expired to pull Stetson to within eight. Sharp drained another three from the top of the key with five minutes remaining to cut the Bulls’ lead to 65-60.
After USF pushed the lead back to eight at 71-63, the Hatters made one last run. Cherisse Burris converted a second chance opportunity with two minutes left and Sims drove the paint and dropped in a floater at the 48-second mark to pull Stetson to within three. The Hatters then got a stop on the defensive end, Sharp pulled down the rebound, dribbled up the court, and launched a three-pointer that came within inches of tying the game.
“Overall our effort was good,” Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said. “We could have laid down and died but we didn’t. We came back, we fought, and we put ourselves in a position to force overtime. We executed what we needed to do down the stretch. Jama had a great look and hit the front of the rim, so it was lined up well.”
Both teams got off to quick start offensively, but USF went 4-for-4 from behind the arc to jump out to a 15-9 lead. The Hatters, who faced a constant full court press in the opening 20 minutes, answered with a 9-0 run to surge ahead by three. The lead changed hands nine times overall in the first half before the Bulls took a 42-37 advantage into the intermission.
“The first half we gave up too many points,” Bria said. “USF basically did whatever they wanted and I just didn’t like our defensive energy. I thought we had a much better effort defensively in the second half but we gave up way too many offensive rebounds.”
The Bulls benefited from 16 offensive rebounds in the second half, and used an 8-0 run midway through the period to push their lead up to 11.
“I was very proud with how we handled their press,” Bria said. “We had worked hard on that the last couple of days, and we were getting lay-ups out of it. When they took that off, we didn’t get as many easy baskets and we went on a little scoring drought midway through the second half. We had some good looks they just didn’t go in.”
Sharp joined Saunders and Sims in double figures with 12 points and six rebounds. Burris finished with eight points and nine rebounds, while Amber Porter recorded eight points, six rebounds, and six blocks. It was her third straight game with six blocks or more.
Stetson outshot USF 43 percent to 36 percent, but the Bulls won the rebounding battle 45-39. Courtney Williams led USF with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
After completing a stretch of four games in 10 days, the Hatters will take a week off for finals before returning to the Edmunds Center court on Dec. 17 against Charlotte.
Notes: Stetson played seven of its first nine games on the road, but will play the next three straight and five out of six at home ... Brianti Saunders went over 20 points for second time this season. She averaged 23.0 points in three games this week ... Sasha Sims moved into the top 10 scorers in school history and is tied for ninth with 1285 points.