TAMPA — As consistently as USF has stayed close with the Big East's elite teams late in games this season, the Bulls have been just as reliable at failing to capitalize down the stretch.
So Saturday night was all too familiar for Stan Heath, whose team led No. 9 Georgetown by seven early and found itself down by four with the ball and 45 seconds to play. Georgetown's defense stepped up, guard Chris Wright went 6-for-6 at the line in the final 30 seconds and the Hoyas escaped the Sun Dome with a 61-55 victory, dropping USF to 0-10 against ranked teams.
"It's tough when you're not able to pull one out," Heath said. "I think our guys recognize that even though our record looks like we're a bad team, we're not what our record indicates. We're going to fight you. We're going to battle. And at some point in time, it's going to pay off. We're going to turn the corner and be on the other end of the four- or five-point games."
The Bulls, who took BYU to double overtime in November and Connecticut to overtime in December, had chances to pull off the upset they've barely missed all season in Big East play. Instead, they had the same consolation of another opposing coach singing their praises.
"With the exception of Notre Dame, every game has been just like this," Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. "Every game has been close. They've been in it, they've been up, down by a short margin. As a coach, you worry and try to express that to your team. Every game has been literally just like this. What it is (that's kept the Bulls from winning) … I'm not equipped to answer that. I'm just glad we turned out on the side we did."
Facing their third top-10 team in eight days, the Bulls (8-20, 2-13) came out strong, leading 24-17 as forward Augustus Gilchrist was aggressive to set the tone. USF held the Hoyas' leading scorer, Austin Freeman, scoreless in the first half and trailed just 28-26 at the break.
Gilchrist had one of his best games of the season, scoring 22 on 10-of-16 shooting to go with a team-best seven rebounds. And after falling behind by 11 late, the Bulls rallied to within four points with 53 seconds left, then got a backcourt steal by Anthony Crater only to see Hugh Robertson's driving shot blocked by Georgetown's Hollis Thompson. Wright, who had 26 points, clinched the win at the line to disappoint an announced crowd of 6,190.
"We have to figure out how to win games at the end; that's the one thing we haven't figured out," Gilchrist said. "As soon as we get that, we'll start cashing in on playing all these ranked teams hard."