SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It's not as if USF hadn't been in this position before — playing a ranked team close then losing.
But Sunday's game was at Notre Dame, which until recently had the longest homecourt winning streak in the nation. Despite rallying throughout the second half, the Bulls lost the Big East contest 67-57.
The short answer to whether or not the Bulls wanted to count this as a moral victory was easy.
"No," said guard Dominique Jones, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
But Jones added, "You've got to get the positives out. We came out and we played hard."
While USF (8-16, 3-9) has made a break with the Big East basement, moving higher is a chore. Notre Dame (14-10, 5-7) didn't make that job any easier.
"They finished plays down the stretch and we didn't," said guard Jesus Verdejo, who led the Bulls with 18 points.
The Bulls played the game wearing their practice uniforms. The team's game jerseys and shorts are somewhere between Tampa and Indiana.
"If we would have won, we would have kept wearing them," coach Stan Heath said. "We'll get back home and try to figure out what happened. They're missing right now. We'll figure out if it's from the plane trip or if they're back at home."
The key to the second half came midway through the half. Trailing for much of the game, USF went on an 8-0 run and tied it at 51 on a Verdejo free throw with 9:43 to play.
Notre Dame went back ahead when Luke Harangody put in an offensive rebound. USF then had five possessions to draw level again. It had one turnover and four missed shots.
"We just kept getting back, getting stops and getting rebounds,'' Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
So when the scoreboard changed again, the Fighting Irish extended their lead to 55-51 on a Harangody jumper with just more than five minutes left. Harangody, the reigning Big East player of the year, finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
USF's drought continued, and Kyle McAlarney's3-pointer from the right wing with 2:48 left made it 61-53. McAlarney scored 19 and hit five 3-pointers.
"We made a couple of bad decisions," Jones said. "We had a couple of good looks. We just didn't knock them down. We've got to knock them down."
Alex Rivas ended the dry spell with a short hook in the lane with 1:41 to play.