Big crowd, big miss: Bulls fall to W. Va.
Here's the game story from Monday's paper. I'll be back with notes later tonight ...
TAMPA – The opponent changed, the venue too, but the same frustrating problems kept USF from knocking off West Virginia on Sunday afternoon: the absolute lack of a power forward to complement center Kentrell Gransberry inside, and Gransberry’s inability to hit free throws in an otherwise impressive showing.
Gransberry went 2-for-11 at the line and USF got zero points from its power forwards, giving up a late 15-2 run as West Virginia pulled away for a 69-52 win at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"Offensively, to hit 26 percent from the free-throw line and 20 percent from 3, that’s a recipe that’s going to hurt you in the long run," said coach Stan Heath, whose team has dropped five in a row since beating Rutgers in the conference opener. "Grans, I thought, was a strong force for us … but right now, mentally, the free throw thing is in his ear, in his head. We just have to help him get through that part and work with him."
The game had an announced crowd of 12,062 – based on tickets distributed – which technically breaks the single-game record for a USF home game, set when 10,444 fans filled the Sun Dome to see USF play Florida in December 2001. The actual crowd looked to be several thousand less than the announced total, which included a large amount of free tickets. Times Forum officials could not provide an actual attendance.
Gransberry had a solid game from the field, hitting 10 of 13 shots for a game-high 22 points. He scored USF’s first 13 points of the second half, including a fast-break catch and layup that put the Bulls ahead 38-33 with 14 minutes remaining.
Even as the Bulls struggled, missing outside shots and not getting the ball to Gransberry, USF trailed 44-43 with 7:11 to play before West Virginia went on a 15-2 run to put the game away. The Bulls went 2-for-6 at the line during that stretch, including Gransberry missing two front ends that Heath called "momentum busters."
"I'm very disappointed in my performance tonight, and I take full accountability for it," said Gransberry, now shooting 53 percent at the line.
West Virginia couldn't miss at the line, hitting 22 of 26 attempts. Junior Alex Ruoff, a Central grad, went 6-for-6 on the way to 14 points, while Da'Sean Butler and Darris Nichols led the Mountaineers with 15 each. USF didn't trail by more than five points until the final fix minutes.
Six games into Big East play, 12 of the league’s 16 teams have at least three conference wins, but USF is 1-5, sitting 15th in the league standings, its only win against last-place Rutgers.
West Virginia (14-4, 3-2) used a modified triangle-and-two defense to contain USF’s top two scorers, with two defenders chasing those two while the other three played a zone. That limited Gransberry to three points in the final 13 minutes, and made freshman guard Dominique Jones, who had 11 in the first half, disappear in a scoreless second half in which he attempted only two shots.
At power forward, Heath started sophomore Amu Saaka, who has struggled since breaking his nose in the Rutgers win and went scoreless in 19 minutes. Walk-on Mo Esseghir played 19, too, but didn’t attempt a shot and finished with two rebounds.
"We’re searching for one more guy," Heath said. "We’ve got four guys out there doing some things, but we need one more guy to step up for us, and we need our bench to give us a little more. That’s the key for us in terms of turning this thing around this season."
As bad as Heath needed a power forward Sunday, he did not once turn to freshman Orane Chin, who averaged 23 minutes and 5.0 points in USF’s first four Big East games but didn’t play Sunday after logging three minutes Wednesday at Seton Hall.
"I wanted to get his attention," Heath said. "Nothing serious, nothing earthshattering, but I just didn’t feel like he’d made the commitment in the last two days to play today."