TAMPA — USF coach Stan Heath had hoped that playing Saturday's matchup with No. 17 Syracuse downtown at the St. Pete Times Forum would provide a much bigger crowd and help spark an upset.
Turns out, it was the Orange that dominated both on the court and in the stands in handing USF its worst loss of the season, 72-49 in front of an announced 10,051.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said his team always has been supported by its fans who live in the bay area, but Saturday was one of the best crowds he has seen. He estimated 6,000-8,000 were clad in orange.
"It was kind of like a home game a little bit," he said.
And Syracuse took control of the game by making a home in the key, outrebounding USF 41-27 and outscoring the Bulls in the paint 38-20. Senior forward Rick Jackson was a big reason why, racking up a season-high 21 points and 12 rebounds. "He's been good all year," Boeheim said. "He has not had a bad night; he literally hasn't."
Heath said the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Jackson is a "terrific player" and an efficient one.
"With post players, you teach them 100 different moves, and this guy really has about one move, he shoots the ball over his left shoulder," Heath said. "But he pins you around that glass and gets rebounds and putbacks."
Syracuse (20-4, 7-4 Big East) took control for good with a 12-0 run midway through the first half. It didn't help that USF sophomore guard Jawanza Poland was plagued by foul trouble, picking up three in the first half before fouling out with eight points in 24 minutes. Poland had scored in double digits in six of his previous seven games, including a career-high 20 Wednesday.
"It took probably, at this point (in the season), our best scorer out of the lineup," Heath said.
To top it off, the Bulls' leading scorer, forward Augustus Gilchrist, struggled with a season-low two points. In the past three games, Gilchrist — who averages 12.8 — has 21 overall.
"We need to get Gus going; it's been about two or three games he hasn't been in a great rhythm," Heath said. "When he's not 14-, 15- and sometimes 20-point guy, that's a big weapon we're missing out on."
Forward Jarrid Famous (14 points), who returned after missing one game with a back injury, and surging sophomore and Tampa native Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (10) helped keep the Bulls within nine at halftime.
"(Fitzpatrick) played terrific," Heath said.
But after turning the ball over just three times in the first half, USF had three turnovers in the first two minutes of the second (and nine in the half), allowing the Orange to pull away.
"I can handle a loss," Heath said. "I just don't like giving away a game."
The Bulls are 1-8 against Syracuse all time and 0-7 against ranked opponents this season.
Fitzpatrick said though all the orange shirts made it feel "almost like an away game," the Bulls (8-16, 2-9) were energized by the new environment. But he said the Orange matched their intensity by getting second- and third-chance points, stealing any momentum they could grasp.
Said Fitzpatrick: "They pretty much dominated us on the boards, on both ends of the (floor)."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.