MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Coming into Sunday afternoon's game at No. 21 West Virginia, USF coach Stan Heath was certain that offensive rebounding and turnovers would be key if his Bulls were to earn their first road win of the season.
He was correct, but not in the way he'd hoped. USF couldn't overcome a poor performance on both counts or dismal first-half shooting in falling to the Mountaineers 56-46.
"That's was some ugly offensive basketball, for both teams," Heath said. "I thought we had some real good looks at some 3s as well as several great chances around the basket in the first half, but we couldn't seem to hit the ocean."
The Bulls (7-14, 1-7 Big East) shot 25 percent in the first half, including 0-of-6 from behind the arc. If it weren't for forward Augustus Gilchrist's eight-point burst early in the game, the Mountaineers (13-5, 4-2) might have carried much more than a 27-16 lead into the locker room.
"Coach got into us pretty good at the half," Bulls guard Jawanza Poland said. "We weren't executing our offense, and we weren't being physical enough, and we needed to make a run early, try to get it down to single digits."
That's just what USF did, turning consecutive strong defensive stops into a follow-up dunk by forward Ron Anderson Jr. and a Gilchrist layup to cut the deficit to seven. But several poor defensive trips resulted in a 9-0 Mountaineers run and their biggest lead of the game at 36-20 with 15:32 left.
USF has lost plenty of games in a schedule ranked eighth-toughest in the nation, but it has yet to go down without a fight, losing only once by more than 10 (83-71 to No. 7 Villanova). The Bulls had no quit in them in this one, either.
Feeding the ball on the low block to Gilchrist, who finished with 20 points, and finally getting a 3 from Poland, USF whittled the deficit to seven with 1:44 to play. But West Virginia converted 6 of 8 free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.
For the game, the Mountaineers grabbed 21 offensive boards to 11 for USF and had six turnovers to the Bulls' 16. USF shot 31 percent from the field and made 1 of 13 3-pointers.
"We never quit out there, just kept trying to get it down to a two-possession game," Gilchrist said. "It's tough to be on this end of the scoreboard, but we just have to keep working hard in practice, keep battling through."
West Virginia backup forward Dan Jennings, who dressed but didn't play, walked away from the bench in the second half. Coach Bob Huggins said the player's exit was "unexcused, inexcusable. Never to be seen again, I guess."