Big lead early, but Bulls fall to Friars, 76-66
TAMPA -- For a half, the shots were falling like they hadn't in weeks for USF, and as the Bulls built a 20-7 lead on Providence and carried it to a 36-25 halftime advantage, there was a buzz sorely missing during a woeful six-game losing streak.
Whatever coach Ed Cooley said at halftime, it registered with the Friars, who came out of halftime hitting everything, scoring the first 17 points to turn that deficit into a 42-36 lead in seven minutes. Despite Victor Rudd's 26 points, the Friars roasted the Bulls in the second half, hitting 64 percent of their shots on the way to a 76-66 victory in the Sun Dome.
"Unfortunately, I've seen this same song before. It's a bad song," Bulls coach Stan Heath said. "I love the way we played in the first half. I thought we played terrific. ... But for some reason, it seems we come out of the gates and we let that momentum get away from us. They went on a great run."
USF, which opened the season hoping to return to the NCAA Tournament, is now 10-14 and 1-11 in the Big East, needing a victory somewhere in the final six games just to avoid matching its worst Big East record in its eight seasons in the league. That road doesn't get any easier for the Bulls, who play host to No. 12 Louisville on Sunday afternoon.
How bad was that seven-minute drought? The Bulls went 0-for-10 with two turnovers, while suddenly unable to stop Providence (13-11, 5-7) from scoring on dunks, 3-pointers and in transition. Friars forwards Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton led the way with 24 and 19 points, with 27 of their 43 points coming in the second half.
"We didn't play the same defense, and they came out and scored," said USF point guard Anthony Collins, who had a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists.
USF had been just as hot to open the game, hitting nine of its first 12 shots from the field -- as many in the first five minutes as the Bulls had hit in the first half of their last two games. In losses to Villanova and Marquette, the Bulls had disastrous starts and trailed 39-16 in both games, narrowly avoiding the lowest point total in the program's history at 36 points. On Wednesday, the Bulls had that at halftime, pulling out to a 36-25 lead, led by Rudd's 12 points and six rebounds. Rudd finished with a double-double with 26 and 11 rebounds.
"It's the same thing that's been going on throughout the Big East. One half we play great defense, the next half we don't," Rudd said. "We've got to put it together. Guys just have to play hard. You want to be a great defender, you have to help your teammates out."
Wednesday's game closely mirrored USF's game 10 days ago at Connecticut -- the Bulls jumped out to a 27-15 halftime lead in Storrs, only to see the Huskies open the second half with a 15-2 run that made that lead disappear; UConn would go on to win in overtime.
The Bulls had won five of the last six meetings with the Friars, including a two-game sweep last season, when USF went 12-6 in conference and reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament.