Close again: Bulls fall 61-55 to No. 9 Hoyas
TAMPA -- As consistently as USF has been able to stay close with the Big East's elite teams late in games this season, the Bulls have been frustratingly just as reliable at being unable to capitalize on such opportunities down the stretch.
So Saturday night was all too familiar for Stan Heath, whose team led No. 9 Georgetown by seven in the first half and found itself down by just four points with the ball and 45 seconds to play. Georgetown's defense stepped up, and guard Chris Wright went 6-for-6 at the line in the final 30 seconds, and the Hoyas escaped the Sun Dome with a 61-55 victory, dropping USF to 0-10 against ranked teams.
"It's tough when you're not able to pull one out," Heath said. "I think our guys recognize that even though our record looks like we're a bad team, we're not what our record indicates. We're going to fight you. We're going to battle. And at some point in time, it's going to pay off. We're going to turn the corner and be on the othe end of the four or five-point games."
Just as the Bulls took BYU to double overtime in November and Connecticut to overtime in December, the Bulls had chances to pull off the upset they've barely missed all season in conference play. Instead, they had the same consolation of another opposing coach singing their praises.
"With the exception of Notre Dame, every game has been just like this," Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. "Every game has been close. They've been in it, they've been up, down by a short margin. As a coach, you worry and try to express that to your team. Every game has been literally just like this. What it is (that's kept them from winning) for them, I'm not equipped to answer that. I'm just glad we turned out on the side we did today."
Facing their third top-10 team in eight days, the Bulls (8-20, 2-13 in Big East) came out strong, leading 24-17 as forward Augustus Gilchrist came out aggressive to set the tone. USF held the Hoyas' leading scorer, Austin Freeman, scoreless in the first half, and the Bulls trailed just 28-26.
Gilchrist had one of his best games of the season, scoring 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting to go with a team-best rebounds. And after falling behind by 11 late, the Bulls pulled within four points with 53 seconds left, then got a backcourt steal by Anthony Crater, only to see Hugh Robertson's driving shot blocked by Georgetown's Hollis Thompson. Wright, who had a game-high 26 points, clinched the win at the line.
"We have to figure out how to win games at the end -- that's the one thing we haven't figured out," Gilchrist said. "As soon as we get that, we'll start cashing in on playing all these ranked teams hard."
Heath said the challenge in facing Georgetown is to limit the Hoyas' backdoor cuts on the baseline while still extending far enough to keep their guards from getting open perimeter shots. USF stopped the backdoor scoring, but Georgetown went 6-for-9 on 3-pointers in the first half, while USF finished the game 1-for-12 beyond the arc.
"We picked our poison," Heath said. "They made the threes, and that was the difference in the game in my opinion."