The University of South Florida men’s basketball team is still winless in American Athletic Conference play … and tonight’s 67-65 loss to the East Carolina Pirates was probably the one conference game they were projected (and favorited) to win. Not-fun fact: both teams came off of 39-point games (USF vs SMU, ECU vs C.). Yikes.
“Am I disappointed? Yeah,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said. “But knowing what we’ve faced this year there’s no discouragement at all. And there’s a difference between the two ... You just gotta keep getting better.”
Center Isaiah Manderson earned his first start in place of Nikola Scekic, and guard Payton Banks returned to action after missing the last two games due to illness. ECU began the first half on a quick little 4-0 run before guard Stephan Jiggetts knocked down a three for USF.
Over a span of three minutes, the Bulls didn’t hit a field goal but did manage to turn the ball over four times. Can they not lol. Guard Justin Brown ended the drought with a three. Well, back-to-back threes.
With five minutes to play, the Bulls were shooting 63 percent on 7-of-9 shooting, and 6-for-8 from beyond the arc. Its so fun when your basketball team is making baskets, and you don’t have to use a #trashketball reference!
In comes Jiggs to forward Tulio Da Silva for the slam! … then Tulio hesitantly tried to hit a three lol … it was worth a try! (?)
“I thought a key point in the game was the last two minutes in the first half where we had a 10-point lead,” Gregory said. “Now you need to win those last two minutes and get that thing to 12 or 13. Or at least keep it at 10.”
By the half, USF held a 35-29 lead on 54 percent shooting behind 11 points from Jiggetts. Promising, right?
Guard Terrence Samuel put up the Bulls first points of the second half with a jumper ... and his first points of the game. He followed with a layup. The next few minutes went back-and-forth with a lot of shots going in on both sides. With 12:49 the Pirates had worked their way to a 45-42 deficit before Jiggs knocked down another shot from beyond the arc. That marked his fourth of the game to match his career-high.
“We knew how important it was for us to guard the dribble, keep them out of the lane,” Gregory said. “And we just didn’t do a good enough job of that the second half.”
With 9:15 to play, ECU tied it up 52-52 on 8-for-9 shooting. Samuel hit a three to regain the lead for the Bulls. Needed that one. Big time. But the Pirates responded by drawing a foul and making two easy free throws. At this point, the game became stressful because WHY. We gotta learn how to play a full 40 minutes. Let me just say it now before someone from the team does.
“We gotta play a whole basketball game,” Samuel said. “I feel like over the course of the whole year we’ve played 20, 30 minutes but we haven’t played a full 40 minute game yet. And its going to be hard to win games like that.”
There it is.
“Unfortunately our defense was not at the level it needed to be at in this league when you’re playing high quality players,” Gregory said. “We didn’t defend well enough.”
Moving along. Manderson was called for a flagrant foul and ECU took a 56-55 lead on another free throw. Zay wasn’t having it on the other end and drew the foul himself under the basket. He tied it up 56-56 on a shot that almost looked like it was gonna bounce out. And took the lead with his second shot.
“Isaiah, he can score the ball,” Samuel said.
More back-and-forth, stressful, unnecessary action, until Samuel tied it up on another three. That boy had a HUGE second half, putting up 15 points in 20 minutes.
The Pirates turned it over with 18 seconds to play while USF was down 67-65. Samuel missed a jumper, the ball was swatted out of bounds, and the Bulls gained posession. Then nothing good happened. The Bulls lost 67-65, and finished on 0-for-6 shooting during the final three-and-a-half minutes of play.
“Every game is important,” Gregory said. “For us its going to be a process of understanding where we’re at and where we need to get better.”
USF will travel to Wichita State on Sunday for a 4 p.m. tipoff.