Tonight the USF men’s basketball team lost to FIU, 65-53, in their first matchup since 2007.
It was the first time the Bulls suited up in over a week. Boo, finals! But on the flip side, it was also the first of a five-game homestand. Yay, basketball! We haven’t seen men’s basketball action in the Sun Dome since November 26. So, hoops junkies - like me - around the Tampa Bay area can rejoice.
FIU opened on a 4-0 run before guard Terrence Samuel knocked down USF’s first shot after two-and-a-half minutes of play. A layup by Nikola Scekic quickly tied the game at 4. The 7-foot-2 center followed with a defensive rebound and attempted to football pass it across the court but it ended up right in an FIU player’s hands. Smh.
Forward Isaiah Manderson put up two for the Bulls’ first lead of the game. He had a huge game in USF’s most recent contest against Appalachian State, and hopefully is just scratching the surface. Speaking of guys who have been making their names known around here, forward Malik Martin got all 500 people in the Sun Dome to awaken their vocal chords with a pretty forceful block. It was exciting.
“I thought we defended them exceptionally well in the first half,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said.
The Bulls held the Panthers scoreless for nearly six minutes, which is really good for these guys. But FIU quickly caught up and tied it at 8-8 after nine minutes of play and shut that down. Guard Justin Brown hit USF’s first three of the game, and FIU followed with an air-balled attempt of their own. Lol.
With four minutes to play, Manderson capped off a 7-0 run with a slam to give the Bulls a 21-18 lead. By the end of the half, USF was 10-for-31 in field goal attempts and had committed NINE turnovers. Manderson led USF to a 25-24 halftime lead with 8 points on 4-for-5 shooting, and 4 rebounds. FIU finished the half with another air ball from long range.
The Panthers came out of the gates hot, with two back-to-back buckets and blocked a three-point attempt by guard Payton Banks (who was 0-for-8 from the field on the night). This pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game.
After a scoreless three minutes, forward Tulio Da Silva put up his first two points of the night to end the drought. His stats haven’t been great lately, alongside less-than-average playing time. But tonight he was back in the starting lineup and put in some not so horrible minutes, grabbing a career-high 17 boards.
“We’re trying to find ways where he [Da Silva] can be successful offensively,” Gregory said. “I commend Tulio because I’ve been on him about rebounding. Especially on the offensive end.”
With 15:59 to play, FIU took its largest lead of the game at 34-27 with a triple and a layup in transition. Not even two minutes later, the Panthers had quickly extended their lead to 42-29 on an 18-4 run.
Guard Stephan Jiggetts knocked down his first points of the night on a three-pointer, and put USF at 2-for-10 from beyond the arc at this point. Other (negatively) notable things that happened during this stretch: USF was 14-for-47 from the field, committed a total of 13 turnovers, tallied 0 fast break points and had 7 of their shots blocked.
“We turned the ball over too much,” Gregory said. “Didn’t shoot the ball as well from the free throw line as we have and we needed them. We needed every single one.”
Over five minutes passed without the Bulls hitting any field goals. With 6:25 to play, USF was shooting a mere 28 percent from the field and 17 percent from three-point range. That has to be a record of ugliness so far this season.
“They just played harder than us in the second half,” Samuel said. “We didn’t respond.”
One positive thing: walk-on guard Henry Beard got some playing time, and in the TDS slack we’ve determined he’s our new Jake Bodway. Which is a high compliment.
Anyway, I’ll spare you all the sad and depressing details of the second half’s downward spiral, and just leave you with the final stats. Decipher as you please. (Note: 20 FGs, 18 TOs). Yikes.
Ok let me say something. This team (whether I like it sometimes or not) is my family and I am starting to genuinely feel sad for them (us). Yes, my snarky articles are all fun and games, but their losses are all my losses, too, and they have GOT to start getting some Ws.
“We’ve got a long way to go but we’re not too far off in some areas,” Gregory said. “We’ve just got to get some consistency.”
We’ll be back on Thursday at 7 p.m. as USF hosts Bethune-Cookman. If they lose that game, please just end the season - and my misery - right then and there.