NASHVILLE, Tenn. — South Florida gave the Temple Owls an early preview of the Big East’s grinding style, and the Bulls added another upset to the NCAA tournament.
Victor Rudd Jr. and Anthony Collins each scored 17 points, and the Bulls shook off a frigid first half, upsetting fifth-seeded Temple 58-44 Friday night in the Midwest Regional.
“Boy that was about as poor a first half as we’ve played all year long,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “We went into halftime, I just thought, ‘I can’t believe we’re only down five points or whatever it was. I just knew there was no way. We may not shoot great, but we can’t go 3 for 27 again.”
They didn’t, and the No. 12 seeded Bulls (22-13) found their shooting touch while taking it to the Atlantic 10 regular season champ with their bruising, Big East play. They held Temple 20 points below its previous season low in scoring.
That allowed the Bulls, who beat California 65-54 in Dayton on Wednesday night, to overcome a first half in which they went nearly 16 minutes without a field goal and missed 22 straight. In their third NCAA tournament, the Bulls will play No. 13 seed Ohio, a 65-60 winner over Michigan, on Sunday.
“Obviously, we’re trying to create and build a history and build a tradition even more so,” Heath said. “We don’t have much, but we have a little bit. Our guys, we talked about leaving some footprints in the sand. I told this group, we’ve already done a little bit. But let’s try to make it bigger. I think the guys know that there’s more opportunity for us.”
Khalif Wyatt led Temple (24-8) with 19 points, and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson had 10. Temple joins the Big East in all sports in 2013-14.
The Owls came into the tournament saying anything less than a regional semifinal would be a disappointment. This was their fifth consecutive NCAA berth and 30th overall for the program, but not even a pre-game phone call from Bill Cosby helped them avoid the early exit.
Now they have some explaining to do after shooting a season-low 35.7 percent (15 of 42) for the game. Ramone Moore came in leading the Owls with 17.7 points per game. He finished with five, his third game this season in single digits.
“It’s very disappointing,” Moore said. “I think coming into the tournament we wanted to make it as far as possible. We’ve got to give credit to South Florida. They did a great job. There’s nothing we can do now. Just look back on it and say we could have did more. But I mean, wanted to go further, but we didn’t. So it’s very disappointing.”
South Florida outrebounded Temple 37-28 and had a big edge outside the arc, where the Bulls hit 6 of 8 in the second half. Temple did outshoot South Florida overall (34 percent, 17 of 50), but the Bulls hit 14 of 23 in the second half.
“It was a great performance,” said Collins, who had 14 points in the second half along with all five of his assists. “It was a great performance we played because we couldn’t make a shot in that first half. To be down only four points like coach is saying and make three shots the whole 20 minutes was incredible.”
Maybe it was fatigue from playing 48 hours earlier combined with travel to Nashville. The opening minutes were so ugly — with both teams racing up and down the floor missing shots — that Rudd put up his hand and motioned at his teammates to slow down just a bit after he stole the ball back.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy said the Owls had an ugly start to the game and missed their chance to have a bigger lead.
“We didn’t get that done,” he said. “Again ... I don’t think it was anything special that South Florida does, they just do a great job of keeping you in front and battling all the time. We didn’t respond like we needed to.”
The Bulls couldn’t have missed more shots in the first half if they tried, going nearly 16 minutes without a field goal and missing 22 straight.
Somehow, they flipped a switch at halftime, hitting six of their first seven. Hugh Robertson tied it at 19 with a big dunk in the first minute, and Wyatt answered with a jumper with 17:56 remaining. That was Temple’s own first field goal since T.J. Dileo’s layup with 6:34 left in the first half.
Collins scored on a layup, then Shaun Noriega hit a long 3-pointer to give South Florida its first lead of the game at 24-21 with 16:54 to go.
Collins, Rudd and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick all agreed that focusing on defense to set up the offense, along with spreading out the Owls so they could attack the basket better helped.
“The basket looked a lot bigger for us in the second half after we locked in on defense,” Fitzpatrick said.
The Bulls hit nine of their first 11 to start the second half, part of a 31-6 stretch in rallying from their largest deficit at 19-8. They finished the spurt in style, too. Fitzpatrick hit a bucket and then connected on consecutive 3-pointers. Rudd gave South Florida its biggest lead adding a third straight 3, putting the Bulls up 39-25 with 12:03 left.
Temple, which averaged 76.1 points during the season, came back with 11 straight points capped by a 3-pointer by Wyatt with 5:44 left. Rudd answered with a 3, then Wyatt was called for a technical after he complained that no foul was called when he drove to the basket and missed.
Rudd hit his fourth 3-pointer with 2:34 to push the lead back to 48-38, and the Bulls finished off their second straight NCAA win.
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