TAMPA - Well, it happened again. Just this time in the second half.
USF fell to that school over in Oviedo, 75-63, after a cold start to the second half.
It was quite reminiscent of USF’s cold first half against the Knights in their Feb. 13 meeting out east. The Bulls started the second half on the wrong end of a 14-3 run after C took a three point lead into halftime on a buzzer-beating floater.
“We show glimpses of what we can get to,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said. “I wish we could’ve played better in the second half, but Central Florida had a lot to do with that.”
Wednesday’s game featured the loudest and largest crowd at the Yuengling Center of the season - USF cashed in on that energy in the opening couple of minutes. Theu jumped out to a 9-4 start in the first three minutes on the strength of an Antun Maricevic three-pointer.
Maricevic hit another three-pointer to tie the game at 26 with 5:16 to play in the first half.
He was quite effective from behind the arc and in the mid-range game, the Croatian poured in eight points in the first half on 3-of-4 shooting. Maricevic was tied for second on the team with ten on the night.
USF looked good in the mid-range in the first half between Maricevic and Michael Durr, who added eight points of his own in the half. It almost looked like a wrinkle in the offense.
“They’ve put in a lot of work,” Gregory said. “They were aggressive to shoot, no hesitation, which was good. We’ve got to be comfortable with that, in terms of that being an option in what we’re doing.”
The Bulls led for the majority of the first half (9:04 to C.’s 7:29), they just couldn’t continue the trend in the second half.
C. came out firing in the second half, getting huge three’s from BJ Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins and a statement dunk from Chad Brown. C. had a seven-minute stretch in the second half where they weren’t able to get a field goal, but USF could just not break into the lead.
Part of that - USF couldn’t make open jumpers. TJ Lang missed a pair of wide-open corner threes, Mayan Kiir missed an open three, David Collins had a couple missed opportunities at open jumpers - it just wasn’t happening.
Justin Brown got the Bulls back within eight with 3:52 to play. USF gave up three extra C. possessions on the other end to let them run quite a bit of clock. The Knights went on another short run to finish the game, nailing the coffin shut.
USF fell to 0-8 against C. in its last eight contests, along with getting swept in the 2018-19 season series. It’s a really tough pill to swallow, considering that Wednesday’s contest had a really, really good, really energetic crowd.
Wednesday’s paid attendance at the Yuengling Center was 7,231 - the second-highest total in building history since it was re-opened in 2012. 1,613 of those were students.
“[I’m] very, very appreciative of the group of students that came out tonight,” Gregory said. “It was an unbelievable turnout by them. You can see what an unbelievable environment they create for us. It was fantastic.”
Brown had a team-high 15 points. Collins and Maricevic both finished with ten. USF shot 46% (21-of-46) from the field, but just 24% from behind the arc. C. won the rebounding battle at 29-25.
The Bulls return to action on Sunday, where they have a noon matinee battle with UConn on the road. They’ll look to snap their two-game losing streak (four consecutive conference losses). The last time those two squads played, the Bulls downed the Huskies, 76-68, putting together a 51-point second half.