USF came out of the gate playing surprisingly well, and quickly took a seven point lead. The Bulls were rebounding, stealing passes and blocking shots as well as they have all year. But SMU found their stride and started challenging for the lead, and the Bulls lost the lead for good with 5:30 left in the first half on a Markus Kennedy dunk.
SMU stayed a solid 8+ points ahead of USF for most of the second half, demonstrating their experience and depth. AAC Player of The Week Nic Moore was held to just seven points and 18 percent shooting from the floor, but Markus Kennedy came off of the Mustang bench to score 22 points and shoot 83 percent. Kennedy and senior center Yanick Moreira were too much for USF's defense to handle.
Corey Allen Jr. did cut SMU's lead to four in the second half by hitting two consecutive three pointers, but SMU regrouped out of the under 12 media timeout. The Bulls fought back to within seven points with 2:31 left in the game. That was when a questionable (at best) foul was called on Ruben Guerrero during a USF inbound play. SMU got the ball, ran down the clock, got an offensive rebound, ran down the clock again and made a shot. With a minute and a half left and a nine point deficit, the Bulls were out of luck.
USF shot 39 percent from beyond the arc, which is a refreshing change from most of this season, but shot just 32 percent from two-point range. In Chris Perry's absence, Jaleel Cousins and Ruben Guerrero did a good job of handling rebounds and getting the ball to the basket. Cousins, who doesn't get a ton of playing time, was more aggressive and passionate than he has been so far this year. And Nehemias Morillo and Corey Allen Jr. were on fire tonight, with 18 points each. Allen Jr. described his night as, "just going out there, having a clear mind, and going out there making plays."
Head Coach Orlando Antigua was disappointed in the outcome, but still pleased by his team's performance. He had to depend on his bench tonight, and they proved that there is more depth at USF than meets the eye. Describing how the Bulls stayed in the game instead of getting blown out, he said, "we didn't let errors compound or disrupt our focus and we just kept playing, we kept playing." And he's right, they played hard through the whole game and were shooting and going for rebounds up to the last second.
SMU Coach Larry Brown had only good things to say about the Bulls after the game. "I don't enjoy games like this one," he said when asked about Chris Perry's absence. "They did a remarkable job after getting the news about Chris." Brown and Antigua know each other already (because Larry Brown knows every basketball coach on the planet), and Brown was complimentary of Antigua's efforts and of USF's potential. "Orlando is good people, he deserves this opportunity. [USF] is, to me, a sleeping giant." Brown said that he was impressed by USF's success in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. "SMU would probably put a statue of me out there if I did a thing like that."
So of course the Bulls fought back in this game. They're always capable of fighting their way back into a game: it's the finish that still eludes them. It feels normal for USF to still be in the game toward the end, but six straight losses feels normal too. Saturday the Bulls play at Tulsa in search of their second AAC win of the season.