ORLANDO - C. jumped out early and USF could just never recover until it was too late on Wednesday night at CFE Arena as the Bulls lost 78-65 in a game where final score is more deceiving than what actually happened on the court.
The Bulls lost their seventh straight against the Knights. C. also took the series lead in games played in Orlando, 9-8.
“I think over the last couple games you saw the Central Florida team that was picked to win the league,” Gregory said. “We didn’t play very well and a lot of that had to do what they did, but give them credit.”
C. did their best USF vs. Memphis impression, jumping out to a 13-1 lead with 15:50 to play in the first half. The Knights’ Tacko Fall made sure to make his seven-foot-six presence known early, scoring six early points.
TJ Lang put in an early three, cutting C.’s lead to seven, before the Knights went on another 14-5 run with 8:27 to play in the first half. USF would eventually cut the lead to ten with just a minute to play in the first half.
Terrell Allen’s dagger three-pointer at the end of the half basically sealed the deal for the Knights, who improved to 18-5 overall and 8-3 in AAC play.
“We got it to a workable number for us and then gave up the three at the end of the half,” Gregory said. “
USF continued to allow Fall inside, which was part of the reason why C. was successful in the early going. The senior had 14 points in the first half alone, finishing with a season-high 21 for the Knights.
“A freshman [Durr] matched up on him is a hard match-up,” Gregory said. “You just can’t let them get the ball deep - you can’t let them get the ball over the top of you - they were able to do both of those.”
The Bulls shot a paltry 28% from the field in the first half, including 18% from behind the arc.
C. started right back where it left off to start the second, keeping USF from any chance of getting back into things. Mayan Kiir missed an open jumper starting off the half, then threw the ball away on the next possession, allowing C. to jump out to a 44-27 lead at that point.
Another big run for C. came immediately after David Collins sunk a pair of free throws with just over three minutes gone in the second. The Knights went on a 14-6 run, and slammed the door shut for any second half comebacks.
“We’ve been in those situations before,” Gregory said. “We just weren’t able to get over the hump tonight.”
The Bulls finished the night on an 11-1 run over the last 2:53 to shrink the final deficit to 13 - the worst loss of the year.
With Wednesday’s result, USF saw their five-game conference win streak broken. A humbling game of sorts.
“I mean, we got beat by a better team tonight,” Gregory said. “I think we were always on Earth, just playing better. We’re a good team. A competitive team. But tonight, there was no question that Central Florida was better than us.”
The Bulls (17-7, 7-5 AAC) will host C. again on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Yuengling Center. They’ll be back in action on Saturday for another marquee AAC matchup against Temple at 6 p.m. at the Yuengling Center.
- USF star freshman Alexis Yetna did not start, but he did come in with 17:17 to play in the first half. The AAC’s leading rebounder had 12 rebounds in 24 minutes.
- USF outscored C. 40-39 in the final half and shot 45% from the field including 54% from behind the arc.
- Two Bulls fouled out in Durr and Antun Maricevic. Two more finished with four fouls. USF had 31 overall fouls called on the night.
- Laquincy Rideau finished just 3-for-17 from the field and 3-of-9 from the free throw line.
- David Collins had his fourth-straight game with 20 points or more, finishing with a game-high 20 on just eight shot attempts.