For awhile Saturday afternoon, it looked like USF might have been able to beat its first ranked opponent since 2012. But the Bulls ultimately fell short to the South Carolina Gamecocks 77-66 at the Sun Dome.
“We’ve got to grow, we’ve got to mature,” head coach Orlando Antigua said. “And we’ve got to understand that the game is 40 minutes, not 20.”
USF really, surprisingly, held in there with South Carolina in the first half, not only taking the lead into the locker room, but holding up on their ends of the stats pretty well.
Sophomore guard Jahmal McMurray made his first start of the year after serving a six-game suspension, and the opening half was pretty much the Jahmal McMurray show. He led all scorers with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including two, lead-taking, deep threes (#adjectives.)
“Honestly I feel better starting rather than coming off the bench,” McMurray said. “But it’s whatever coach wants. I’m not too busy worried about that. I just gotta go in and perform at the end of the day.”
Bulls fans got their first look at Texas Tech transfer Isaiah Manderson in the first half. The junior forward checked in at 8:37 and grabbed his first foul as a Bull at 8:05. He also missed a layup followed by a REALLY, REALLY, hard fall. The whole Sun Dome could hear his 247-pound body hit the floor, hard. But he appeared fine … so PRAISE. He was only in for three minutes, and didn’t put up any numbers other than that foul, but judging by his reaction from the fall (and I’m probably really reaching, here) it looks like he’s gonna be a tough one.
“Teams only have 6-7 assists on them (Gamecocks),” Antigua said. “With that being said, you want to get to the free throw line with them, because they’re not going to allow you to reverse it, reverse it, to get to the shot. So you have to compensate that by getting to the free throw line, which I thought we did.”
Now, we know USF isn’t really a second half team (despite their overtime win against Bethune-Cookman), but they didn’t COMPLETELY blow it. They stayed tough, and didn’t allow the Gamecocks, playing without senior guard SIndarius Thornwell, to put the game away until the last two minutes.
“I would say we got a little bit complacent,” McMurray said. “We were up in the first half .. we didn’t come out with the fire that we had in the first half. So, we just have to continue to complete a full game and come out with that same fire.”
McMurray finished with a game-high 25 points.
“Obviously his scoring ability is one of the things we bring to the table,” Antigua said. “But Jahmal is a sophomore, it’s not like he’s a senior. He’s got some growth, some maturing. He’s got to understand now that this is a different team he’s playing with, too. So we gotta help him along in that process to understand when his opportunities are going to be there and when he’s gotta facilitate to the other guys.”
Freshman forward Malik Fitts had a strong second half and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds on the game. He also had what was probably the most exciting play of the game (in my opinion. Sue me.) A physical battle for the ball, with about five bodies on the floor. Luis Santos muscled control of the ball, attempted to throw it out to one of his teammates, but a Gamecock grabbed it. The Bulls recovered, Thorpe missed an easy layup and Fitts secured the bag. Sheesh.
“I thought Malik did a really solid job for us, being able to drive and get into the lane,” Antigua said. “He’s playing the way he’s been practicing. He’s competing, he’s being physical, as a true freshman it takes some time to get used to playing college games. You’ve seen some of the growth. The thing that gets us excited is how much more he can improve.”
“He’s (Antigua) pretty much just telling me to keep being aggressive,” Fitts said. “What he’s wanting me to focus on more is my defense, and offensive rebounding as well. I’ve got the defensive rebounds down, but I just have to do a lot better on the offensive side.”
With five minutes to play, South Carolina took its largest lead of the game thus far at 69-61. The Bulls hit a few free throws to stay in the game, but couldn’t get past the Gamecocks. And then with 2:17 left to play, the Bulls officially let it go and South Carolina’s lead hit 12.
I think the best part of the game is that there were literally FOUR Daily Stampede staff members at a USF MEN’S BASKETBALL GAME …. Lol. Why.