ORLANDO — Instead of trying to make amends for this latest loss, USF is hoping for a fresh start.
The Bulls get a six-day break before their next game and in that time will welcome a pair of players they hope can make an immediate impact.
Any boost is welcome after back-to-back road losses to Conference USA teams, the latest Saturday night, 71-63 at UCF. The Bulls also suffered a 78-77 overtime loss at Alabama-Birmingham last week.
"We have really struggled at the end of games, especially on the road," Bulls coach Stan Heath said. "Our lack of depth and just being able to finish has been a problem for us."
The additions of transfers Mike Mercer (Georgia) and Gus Gilchrist (Maryland), who had to sit the first semester because of NCAA transfer rules, will add depth and should spark competition for playing time.
"There's no starters right now," Bulls sophomore Dominique Jones said. "Everyone has to start from Day 1."
The Bulls (3-3) trailed most of the second half in a game in which they committed a season-high 21 turnovers. They cut the deficit to 61-60 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Jesus Verdejo, the second with 4:24 left. USF went on a scoring drought for the next 4:05 while the Knights (4-3) pushed the lead to 10 with the raucous crowd driving them.
Guard Jermaine Taylor had 30 points and forward Tony Davis 17 in the Knights' first win against the Bulls since 89-85 in overtime Feb. 7, 1994. That snapped USF's nine-game winning streak in the series, though it still leads all-time 18-5.
"Our guys did a tremendous job of competing and fighting hard against a good South Florida team," UCF coach Kirk Speraw said. "Those guards are very good. They are hard to defend."
The Bulls lost control after leading by nine in the first half.
The Knights went on a 14-0 run that gave them a 31-28 lead with 18:58 left in the game. There was a huge momentum shift when the Knights junior Drew Speraw, the coach's son, drilled his only shot, a 3-pointer, with two seconds left before halftime.
"Up by nine we weren't able to maintain that or stretch that," Heath said. "Once they got the momentum, playing catchup was very difficult for our team."
Some good news was the play of Jones, who matched his career high with 31 points.
"I was in a slump," Jones said. "I think I'm back to where I was. I think I've got my confidence."
Izzy Gould can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 580-5315.