Bulls flirt with infamy in loss to ECU
They tipped off the 2015-16 season nearly four months ago, armed with sleek freshmen and seasoned newcomers expected to help a beleaguered program achieve inroads.
Instead, the USF Bulls achieved infamy.
The woeful shooting that has afflicted USF's depleted roster reared itself again Wednesday night before an announced Sun Dome crowd of 2,957. The Bulls hit one of their 15 3-point tries in a 52-39 loss to fellow American Athletic Conference bottom-feeder East Carolina (12-18, 4-13).
USF's 39 points were only three more than the program's single-game low set in a 35-point home loss to Marquette on Jan. 30, 1997. USF avoided the notoriety on freshman Jahmal McMurray's 3-pointer with 1:22 to play. Its 27.8-percent performance from the floor (15-for-54) was a season-low.
"It was very frustrating," said 6-foot-11 senior Jaleel Cousins (13 points, six rebounds). "The whole 40 minutes just felt weird like, I don't really know what was going on. Everything just seemed off."
Answers must come expeditiously. Unless the Bulls (7-23, 4-13) win Saturday at Tulsa, roll through next week's American Athletic Conference tournament in Orlando, then win
the national title, they'll eclipse the program single-season record of 23 losses.
"Just one of those nights where we couldn't execute, couldn't find a basket, missed a lot of shots that we normally would make," Bulls coach Orlando Antigua said.
"And then you start pressing and start trying to rush, forcing things. We've got to give East Carolina a lot of credit; they capitalized on the momentum and that continued to inspire them."
Festivity preceded the frigidness. Antigua honored his three outgoing seniors as well as seldom-used walk-on Tre' Bryant (a senior academically), then let all of them start. Bryant's only shot during his 2 1/2-minute stint failed to draw rim.
Things never got much better in the half. The Bulls were 6-for-30 from the floor and missed all 10 of their 3-point tries before intermission, with center Ruben Guerrero's short baseline jumper representing the only outside shot.
"When we started we had a bunch of energy, but I felt like the energy wasn't put towards the game," Cousins said.
"Everybody was happy, it was senior night, but it wasn't like, 'I'm happy and I'm gonna go out here and just play.' So I really don't know where everyone's heads were. We've just got to make a big turnaround from that. That was horrible."
Increasing USF's collective frustration was its defensive effort, perhaps good enough to win if an offensive pulse had been located.
The Pirates, missing 6-5 freshman Kentrell Barkley (10.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg) due to illness, shot 36 percent from the game (18-for-50), suffered a handful of shot-clock violations and hit only five of 20 from 3-point range.
"We have to see what we can take away from this, because a lot of it has to do with us," said Antigua, whose team has totaled 29 points in its last two opening halves.
"East Carolina did their part and they capitalized on it, but I thought defensively we did enough."