Despite a career game from freshman David Collins and trailing by as much as 15 in the second half, the USF men’s basketball team fell just short 79-77 to Memphis on Thursday afternoon in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference at the Amway Center.
“It was a very well played game,” head coach Brian Gregory said. “We have to give our guys credit for continuing to fight, and our young guys credit for the way we finished out the year.”
Different from the Bulls rout of the Tigers exactly a week ago, USF trailed from the start and never led.
Trailing 8-0, back-to-back buckets from Collins and Stephan Jiggetts sparked the Bulls to a 7-0 run to get right back in it.
Collins finished the game with a career-high 30 points, shooting 11-for-13 from the floor and a perfect 2-for-2 from behind the arc. He added four rebounds and two assists.
“He’s got a chance to be a great player in this league. His best attributes are he’s coachable and he works hard,” Gregory added. “When you add that to the baseline of talent that he has, it’s a pretty good combination… He made good play after good play.”
Collins is just the fifth freshman in USF history to score 30 or more points in a game, and finished only three points shy of the school freshman scoring record, held by Radenko Dobras in 1989.
The Bulls couldn’t find an answer for Tigers guard, and Orlando native, David Nickelberry late in the first half. The freshman scored all 14 of his points in a six minute span in the first half to push the Tigers lead to 38-29 at the break.
Jiggetts finished second in scoring with 16 points and five rebounds in his final game as a Bull and drained a three with 21 seconds left to make it a three-point game. He later missed a good look from behind the arc to tie it 79-79 with only 5 seconds left.
As a team, the Bulls shot 50% (27-for-54) from the floor and 41% (7-for-17) from three-point range. USF shot an impressive 16-for-29 from the floor in the second half to keep the deficit at single digits, but the late rally wasn’t enough.
“I think our guys deserve a lot of credit for the way they finished out the year, the toughness that they played with,” Gregory said. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re playing pretty good basketball and you want to continue to play and then it ends. We have a lot to build on from some of the stuff we did this year.”
Memphis head coach Tubby Smith also acknowledged the Bulls resiliency at seasons end in his opening statement after the game.
"I'm happy we won, but wow I've been really impressed by South Florida the last couple weeks, credit to Brian Gregory and his staff" - Memphis head coach Tubby Smith.— The Daily Stampede (@StampedeSBN) March 8, 2018
The program’s winningest season since 2013-14, the Bulls (10-22) finished their first season under Gregory’s leadership with plenty of momentum and what looks to be a solid foundation. That’s all we can ask for at this point, right?