QUEENS, N.Y. — Justin Leemow hit a 3-pointer from the corner, and the home fans fell silent, ceding the floor to the handful of USF friends and family seated behind the visitors' bench. After a difficult first half, the Bulls led St. John's by two points with 12:55 remaining.
But in a season full of struggles, the good times didn't last long. USF didn't score again for nearly eight minutes as the Red Storm built an 18-2 run, running off with a 65-48 win Sunday at Carnesecca Arena.
"It's a struggle right now, just putting the ball in the basket, finishing some layups that we had early in the game and free-throw shooting," said Stan Heath, whose Bulls have lost 13 of their past 17 games. "That's just something that's been a nagging problem that we need to fix."
Sophomore guard Paris Horne scored 19 for St. John's, which is finally getting healthy after a tough six weeks. Forward Justin Burrell is wearing a protective mask after sustaining hairline facial fractures in December, while point guard Malik Boothe returned Sunday from a thumb injury that caused him to miss the past nine games.
The Red Storm (12-9, 3-6 Big East) had averaged 18 turnovers since Boothe's injury; his return helped that number drop to 10, while his aggressive defense on USF ball-handlers helped keep them from running their offense with much efficiency.
USF (7-14, 2-7) had a modest 11 turnovers but shot 35 percent, including 31 percent in the second half.
"What hurt us today was we didn't have the patience to work for a good shot," Heath said. "We just settled for so many questionable shots. That's where I thought we just didn't do our part in terms of executing the way we should have."
The Bulls were off-kilter from the start, needing 41/2 minutes to score their first points, but they stayed in the game and woke up after halftime. Gus Gilchrist hit a 3-pointer on the first play of the second half and USF scored on eight of its first 12 possessions.
Leemow's 3-pointer — his only points of the game — gave the visitors a 40-38 lead, but St. John's answered with a putback basket and renewed defensive vigor.
"That was a key moment in the game where we had a little run going and we didn't build on it," Heath said. "Eventually, St. John's capitalized on our inability to score."