Despite a career-high 22 point performance from guard Payton Banks, the USF Bulls (7-11, 0-5 AAC) fell 78-55 to the No. 14 Cincinnati Bearcats Saturday night at the Sun Dome. The defeat marks the Bulls’ 24th straight loss to a ranked team ... And they remain winless in the American. Ouch.
“I feel about 90 percent,” Banks said after missing the last three games with an undisclosed illness. “It’s my job to knock down shots and help my team win games ... that’s what I tried to do tonight.”
The game was off to … not a bad start. Within the first three minutes, the Bulls held an 8-4 lead behind back-to-back threes from guard Stephan Jiggetts and forward Malik Martin. Call me overly excited or too eager ‘bout it, but USF had lost the past eight games (well, nine now) against Cincinnati and hasn’t beat a ranked team at home since 2010. So yeah, LET ME LIVE.
Anyway, the Bulls held the Bearcats (15-2, 4-0 AAC) scoreless from the field for nearly FIVE (5) MINUTES. Probably a record for a Cincinnati drought, but not absolutely looking it up just in case it isn’t. You know what they say about protecting your peace.
Meanwhile USF didn’t connect for almost three minutes, but that’s beside the point. With 13:36 to play, the Bulls were shooting 60% compared to the Bearcats’ 29% ... #comeonsomebody!
OKAY LET ME TALK ABOUT THIS 10-POINT LEAD USF TOOK. The Sun Dome was giving me so much life. 19-9 with 8:50 to play in the first half. I mean come on, this is NOT what YOU GUYS were expecting (I totally was ... you know my faith in this team is everlasting).
Forward Isaiah Manderson hit a jumper at the shot clock buzzer and the larger-than-normal crowd was poppin’. The only thing that would make me happier at this point would be some kind of immaculate defensive performance from our 7-foot-2 center. I digress.
By the time there was 3:40 left in the half, Cincinnati had cut it’s deficit to 27-25. Usually USF waits till the second half to let it go. I don’t really know what happened here but let me give you some positives, because THAT is the mindset tonight.
At this point, the Bulls had hit 6-of-8 of their last shots. I don’t remember the last time that has happened. And they were shooting 80% from three-point range (don’t remember the last time - if ever - that has happened either) compared to the Bearcats’ 22%. A stat of beauty. Oh, and let’s point out how Banks was on the court! He’s been out for a minute now due that illness, but he led all Bulls with 10 points in the first half. Welcome back, friend.
Aaaand just like that. With 1:37 to play, the Bearcats took a 31-29 lead on two free throws. Umm, I don’t really want to but probably should point out that their free throw shooting in the first half was on point. Cincinnati shot 94%from the line. NINETY FOUR PERCENT. They hit 17-of-18. That is so good it hurts.
The Bearcats ended the half on a 14-6 run that left the Bulls down 35-33. It honestly could have been much worse, so I don’t wanna hear any whining. Guard David Collins got it in at the buzzer to end the first half and we were blessed with a very animated reaction from head coach Brian Gregory. Good times.
“The first 20 minutes, that was the fight and toughness that one day is going to be natural for us,” Gregory said.
Okay so second half. Of course Cincinnati forward Gary Clark scored immediately. They don’t call that boy a problem for no reason! (Pretty sure his offensive play isn’t actually the reason but whatever.) After two minutes, Jiggetts grabbed the Bulls’ first points of the second half with a jumper.
The Bearcats quickly took a 43-35 lead. Guard Terrence Samuel hit a much-needed three to cut the deficit. Then Banks hit one! … and then some Bearcat did. *rolls eyes*
At the under-12 timeout, the Bulls had only hit 3-of-10 field goal attempts while Cincinnati held a 50-41 lead. A couple minutes later, Banks knocked down another three to give us a little hope. That boy was 4-for-4 from beyond the arc at this point. Reassuring to say the least.
Three minutes passed before the Bearcats scored. But they still held a 60-46 lead. They went on to hit 5-of-6 while USF hit 0-of-4 (over four minutes). LOL.
“I thought Cincinnati’s defensive pressure in the second half was the difference,” Gregory added. “We got some good looks around the basket that could have been run stoppers and we just weren’t able to knock them down.”
The rest of the game was not cute. I’ll spare you the details of an uphill battle because there were no more small victories to point out. USF fell 78-55. Here are the stats:
The Bulls will head to East Carolina on Wednesday for a 7PM tipoff. Tune in if you please.