TAMPA — Stan Heath didn't mince words.
After his USF team stumbled to its third straight loss, and its first at home this season, falling 70-55 to Niagara on Sunday, Heath expressed frustration at the lack of fire from his team, which struggled despite the debut of two midyear transfers.
"I'm very disappointed in our performance," Heath said. "The intensity level we had was poor, (and ) the teamwork and togetherness, which to some degree was expected. We knew chemistry would be an important issue. … We'll be a better team down the road, but this was a huge message that slapped us right in the face."
USF (3-4) had hoped for a spark against the Purple Eagles (7-2) with the addition of guard Mike Mercer and forward Gus Gilchrist, who both started in their Bulls debuts. Mercer had 12 points and three steals, taking a team-high 16 shots in 39 minutes, but USF was vulnerable as it adjusted to a new lineup.
"We were just lucky to get them in their first game," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "It's just going to take a little time for those guys to blend in. … They're still shaking the rust off."
That wasn't excuse enough for senior guard Jesus Verdejo, who had 20 points but didn't like to see his team emotionless for a home game they could have won in front of an announced 2,577.
"That was embarrassing," Verdejo said. "I'm speaking for the whole team: no heart, no passion to win the game. … We didn't get it done."
Verdejo continues to be the only Bull capable of hitting a 3-pointer — he hit two, but the rest of the team went 0-for-8, dropping to 20 percent this season. Guard Dominique Jones, the leading scorer coming in, had a season-low eight on 3-of-10 shooting.
"We saw a team that was a little discombobulated, didn't have a clear understanding of their roles and the intensity level we need to play at," Heath said. "Niagara exposed that and took advantage of that."
Gilchrist, a 6-foot-10 forward from Maryland, missed his first four shots and ended up with five turnovers, finishing with eight points and six rebounds. USF had zero bench points until 2:04 remained.
Niagara was led by guard Tyrone Lewis, who hit five 3-pointers for a game-high 23 points.
USF has a quick turnaround, hitting the road today for a game against Vanderbilt on Tuesday night in Nashville as part of the Big East/SEC Invitational.