Bulls can't hold on against No. 16 USC
Just when USF appeared poised for its first victory against a ranked opponent in almost five years, all poise abandoned the Bulls.
Unable to preserve a six-point halftime lead against No. 16 South Carolina (9-1), the Bulls managed one field goal in the last seven minutes in a 77-66 loss before an announced Sun Dome audience of 2,489.
The Gamecocks, 4-of-17 from 3-point range in the first half, went 6-of-8 in the final 20 minutes, hitting two during a 13-3 run down the stretch to send USF (5-4) to its 20th consecutive loss against a ranked foe.
"I think you take away what they shot from (3-point range) when we got into some zone and they were able to move it to make some big 3s, and some of the transition easy baskets in the second half, and...I think we're having a different conversation," Bulls coach Orlando Antigua said.
Saturday's ending stood in start contrast to the outset.
With new Bulls football coach Charlie Strong observing from a courtside seat (and staying the whole game), the Bulls out-rebounded USC 26-17 in the first 20 minutes en route to a 37-31 lead. All 11 of the Bulls' fast-break points came before intermission.
And when unable to create an open shot against the nation's third-best scoring defense (56.8 ppg), the Bulls successfully drew fouls via penetration. USF hit 11 of 15 free throws in the first half; USC went 3-of-7.
"Defensively we had no juice, we didn't rebound and they attacked us and they had us on our heels," said Gamecocks coach Frank Martin, whose team played its third game without suspended top scorer/rebounder Sindarius Thornwell.
"It was like a boxer that's got a minute to go in the round and he's groggy. Luckily, we got to halftime to be able to kind of sit down and re-compose ourselves."
Still, USF found itself within a possession of the Gamecocks with seven minutes to go, when F Luis Santos' layup cut the guests' lead to 64-61. P.J. Dozier hit two free throws to make it a five-point game, then hit a 3-pointer following McMurray's missed trey and a missed Bo Zeigler free throw.
Two missed Bulls layups later, senior Duane Notice hit a 3-pointer to give USC a 72-63 lead with 3:17 to go. The Bulls had two turnovers and one field goal -- a Zeigler layup -- the rest of the way.
USC scored 13 points off nine Bulls second-half turnovers.
"Defensively they get you out of your offense," said Antigua, whose team finished with a season-low five assists. "We wanted to get to the free-throw line; I thought we did a good job of doing that. In the second half we had too many turnovers that led for them getting easy transition baskets, and that kills you both ways."