TAMPA — USF's first game without forward Gus Gilchrist was a struggle Sunday, as the Bulls had three chances for at least a tie in the final minute but took a home 59-56 loss to Central Michigan.
Down five with 1:30 to play, the Bulls (7-2) got baskets from Dominique Jones and Mike Mercer to trail by one with 37 seconds left. The Bulls had the ball with a chance to win, but Jones' pass to Mercer went out of bounds, then freshman Shaun Noriega's 3-pointer to tie missed with seven seconds left. Jones, who scored a game-high 24 but had costly late turnovers, missed a halfcourt shot at the buzzer.
"A lot of glaring holes… holes I hadn't seen before," said USF coach Stan Heath, who started four guards. "But it's fixable. It's disappointing we've got to address it after a loss."
The Bulls will be without Gilchrist, their leading scorer at 18.8 points per game, for at least six weeks — Heath said Sunday that the 6-foot-10 sophomore has torn ligaments as part of a high ankle sprain — but CMU kept 6-11 center Jarrid Famous from doing much, either. Famous had five points, on 1-for-3 shooting, and one rebound in 32 minutes.
"We had no post presence," Heath said. "I think it affected not only our scoring inside but our 3-point shooting, too."
The Bulls had trailed 52-45 with less than six minutes left but rallied to tie it on a dunk by Famous with 3:19 left. CMU (4-5) answered with a three-point play, then Jones slipped and lost the ball, leading to a breakaway dunk.
USF rallied back to be in position to hit a winning shot, and after Amir Rashid hit two free throws with 12 seconds left for a three-point lead, Heath put the ball in the hands of Noriega, a freshman who hadn't taken a shot all night and played just three minutes. An open shot from the wing rimmed out.
"Absolutely, he can make that shot," Heath said. "He's a guy I think is always cocked, loaded and ready.."
The Bulls close out a five-game homestand Wednesday against Central Florida.