TAMPA, Fla. — It’s getting late in the college basketball season. Any victory is precious. It didn’t matter that the Temple Owls had no time to exhale on Saturday night. It didn’t matter that they were fortunate to escape.
It was a win.
The Owls, who rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit, defeated the University of South Florida Bulls 70-69 in overtime at the Yuengling Center, giving Temple (19-7, 9-4 American Athletic Conference) a dramatic road triumph that could resonate well into March.
It wasn’t assured until USF’s David Collins, fouled by Temple’s J.P. Moorman after catching an improbable full-court inbound baseball pass, stepped to the line with 0.8 seconds remaining and a chance to steal it.
Collins, USF’s clutch leader and a 72.1 percent shooter from the line, missed both free throws.
“We were lucky to come out of this with a victory,’’ Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.
It completed a regular-season sweep of the Bulls (17-8, 7-6), who lost to Temple, 82-80 (also in overtime), on Jan. 12 at the Liacouras Center.
“USF plays really, really hard,’’ Dunphy said. “They compete as hard as anybody we play against. Again, we were fortunate to get this victory.’’
The Bulls seemingly had command of the game, leading, 45-36, with 9:50 to play in regulation, but Temple turned up its defense a few notches, forcing three straight turnovers. Riding the play of senior guard Shizz Alston (game-high 24 points), the Owls tightened things down the stretch.
Sophomore guard Nate Pierre-Louis tied it for Temple, 59-59, on a traditional three-point play with 41.4 seconds remaining in regulation.
But the overtime became an Alston showcase. His put-back put the Owls up, 61-59. His three-point bomb gave Temple a 68-65 advantage.
Ultimately, it was his free throw with 1.5 seconds left in overtime — after a drive that got a pair of USF defenders off their feet and created a foul call — that put the Owls ahead for good, 70-69.
“He [Alston] is pretty special,’’ Dunphy said. “He was a little disappointed in his free-throw shooting [5-for-9 after coming in at an AAC-leading 92 percent], which is usually spot on.
“Late in the game, I was asking, ‘What do you want to run now that will allow you to score and set up somebody else?’ We’ve come to expect that from him. I’d be foolish not to get his counsel.’’