PISCATAWAY, N.J. — A team doesn't find itself at the bottom of the Big East rankings in almost every offensive category by accident.
In a 71-62 loss to Rutgers at the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Thursday, USF again put up an offensive performance that showed why it is struggling.
No play was more emblematic or more self-destructive than Jawanza Poland's missed dunk with 4:22 left. Poland had a wide-open opportunity in transition that could have swung momentum if he had thrown it down as emphatically as the high-flying sophomore guard had set it up. Instead, the dunk was blocked by the rim.
Poland would have cut into the Scarlet Knights' seven-point lead; instead it may have been the dagger that ended the Bulls' hopes of a second straight win.
"It was a letdown," USF coach Stan Heath said.
"He killed it for them with that dunk," said Rutgers guard James Beatty. "It could have given them momentum. Who knows what it would have done to us."
As ignominious as the play was, Beatty did the majority of the damage with 20 points, 18 in the second half.
After USF (7-13, 1-6 Big East) started the second half with a 5-0 run against a team that has been vulnerable to early knockout punches coming out of halftime, the Rutgers guard responded.
He hit three straight 3-pointers in an 11-0 run for Rutgers (11-7, 2-4). Later in the half a Beatty 3-pointer gave Rutgers a 47-44 lead with 8:34 remaining. It would be the last lead change.
"He is the straw that stirs the drink," Heath said of Beatty.
Augustus Gilchrist led the Bulls with 14 points, shooting 5 of 6. Hugh Robertson also scored 14, and Poland was the third Bull in double digits though on 3-of-14 shooting.
USF shot 38 percent and had 15 turnovers. But it was not just the sheer statistics that had Heath disappointed. He was troubled by how his team was a step slow on defense in the second half, and with a lack of discipline and patience in getting the ball to Gilchrist.
"The biggest difference in the game was their senior leadership," Heath said. "We had a vacuum in that area. We just didn't have anybody that really emerged and stepped up for us at key times. Not necessarily to give us points but give us some leadership out on the floor."
After a victory over Providence on Sunday, the Bulls missed out on a shot at a two-game winning streak in the Big East.
"It was an opportunity," Heath said. "We let it slip away."