Tonight was a normal night for USF Men's Basketball: the Bulls came out playing well, snagging rebounds and staying well-positioned on defense. They jumped out to an early lead, but by half time, it had been erased by a bigger and more experienced team.
Both teams filled the first half with mistakes. Most notably, the shooting was terrible. But after fifteen minutes of messy basketball, USF had Temple fighting to overcome an eight point Bulls lead. And fight back they did. Four different Owls scored before half time to cut USF's lead to a single point. Still, a one point half time lead over Temple is nothing to sneer at, given that this team hasn't had a win for over a month.
In the second half, Temple's Will Cummings and Jesse Morgan showed up, along with most of the rest of the team. Seven Owls scored at least two baskets, as their bench added fifteen points before the game was through. And that's the difference between a team like Temple and a team like USF. Temple starts all upperclassmen who, when they get tired or in foul trouble can depend on other guys to pick up some slack. USF is just not quite as tall, not quite as experienced and doesn't have quite as much endurance.
Temple shut down the lanes that Nehemias Morillo and Corey Allen had been finding earlier in the game and stifling the two top-scoring Bulls was enough for the Owls to take and keep the lead. "We're trying to find one more person to be able to help Nehemias and Corey as far as production offensively," said Orlando Antigua after the game. Throughout this game, that person seemed to be Bo Zeigler, but his six points were not enough (even though four of them came on two sweet alley-oops). With Temple's guard Josh Brown coming up with some threes and Cummings continuing to get fouled and make his free throws, Temple pulled away little by little until they had a ten point lead with 3:30 left in the game. They then grabbed five rebounds in a row to take the clock down to a minute before hitting a jumper to put themselves up 60 to 48. One last Cummings free throw made the final score 61 to 48.
The defense looked good, but by the end they all seemed worn out when playing offense, finishing the game with a four minute scoring drought. That kind of thing is expected with a team this young, but it still hurts. The valiant efforts of the Bulls are always met with an even better effort by the opposing team (or just bad luck like losing to Tulsa in OT on Saturday).
Corey Allen Jr., who did the bulk of USF's scoring, described the game succinctly: "We make mistakes and they capitalize on them." He saw the loss as a question of discipline, adding, "When we did the little things we started building a lead, and when we stopped doing the little things it seemed to decline." When asked about how it felt to be going through an eight game losing streak, Allen Jr. said, "We're just staying positive, we keep on going into every game fighting, and see what comes out of it."
Watching USF hang with every team they play, I can't help but see some wins coming up this month as the schedule gets easier. UCF, Houston, ECU and Tulane will all be beatable teams when the Bulls face them before the conference tournament, so seven wins will not be USF's ceiling this year. Still, I really hope that eighth win comes soon because this losing streak is hard to stomach.