All too familiar: Seton Hall nips USF, 79-75
TAMPA – It wasn’t a one-point loss, as the last two games had been for USF, but when the Bulls fell 79-75 to Seton Hall in the Sun Dome on Tuesday night, was every bit as agonizingly, frustratingly, historically close.
Down two with 15 seconds to play, USF center Kentrell Gransberry missed two free throws, part of a 2-for-6 effort at the line for the Bulls in the final 1:20. Seton Hall hit its last four free throws in the final 31 seconds, clinching a win that officially eliminates USF from the Big East tournament.
“It seemed like the breaks didn’t go our way, but we’ve got to create our own breaks, too,” coach Stan Heath said. “We still had great chances … it’s just the one or two right there that eluded us. A lot of teams that are young and figuring things out go through these things, though you hope you don’t have to.”
The loss spoiled a superb night for USF guard Dominique Jones, who scored a career-high 31 points, the most by any freshman in the Big East this season.
“Jones was so spectacular that we could not stop him,” Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez said.
But Jones missed a free throw of his own that would have tied the game with 1:20 to play, and had a layup blocked with 50 seconds left. Those, unfortunately, are the memories that linger after the loss.
“All night, you think about, ‘Oh, if I would have done this different, if I would have done that different, we would have come out with a win,” said Jones, who set USF’s freshman season scoring record, set by B.B. Waldon in 1998-99. “All that individual stuff, it means something to me, but I can always trade stuff in for a win.”
The Bulls (11-17, 2-13) lost to Connecticut in overtime by one point on Feb. 16, then again by one point at Cincinnati on Feb. 20.
In USF’s history, this run of three losses in 11 days by a combined six points is unprecedentedly close. Of 174 previous stretches of three consecutive losses, dating back to 1971, none had been lost by less than a combined eight points.
The Bulls trailed the entire second half, by as much as nine, after a free throw off an Amu Saaka technical foul put Seton Hall up 58-49. The Bulls clawed back, twice taking 3-pointers that would give them the lead, but both missed.
Chris Howard missed a free throw with 34 seconds to keep Seton Hall up 75-73, and teammate B.J. Ajayi had the rebound before center John Garcia popped it loose. Garcia, a 55 percent shooter, hit two free throws for a four-point lead.
Jones hit a layup to pull within two with 21 seconds to play, and a backcourt travel by Seton Hall gave USF a chance to tie with 16.2 left. Gransberry, who had 15 points, missed his free throws, and a wild outlet pass from the Pirates took a lucky carom off the backboard and to Garcia, who passed to Jeremy Hazell, who hit two free throws to put the game away.
Brian Laing had 20 of his 24 points in the first half for Seton Hall, and when USF got him into foul trouble, Jamar Nutter stepped up, scoring 16 of his 20 in a nine-minute span of the second half.
USF came in as the Big East’s worst free-throw shooting team, but was hitting 80 percent (16 of 20) until the final 1:20, when the biggest shots cost them a chance to win.
“The ones we really needed just didn’t go down for us,” Heath said.