TAMPA — USF went into Saturday's game with James Madison with three post players available, so it was crucial that the Bulls be careful about frontcourt fouls.
Over the final 6:24, all three fouled out for USF, and the Bulls, up five points before they started going shorthanded, saw James Madison close the game on a 15-5 run, a familiar finish to a 66-61 loss in the Sun Dome.
"From my viewpoint, that was very much an unacceptable loss," said coach Stan Heath, whose team blew a 14-point first-half lead, then led by 10 in the second half. "I thought we got a lead, we got comfortable, relaxed, let that team get momentum going and never really re-established ourselves. The things we had been doing, especially on the defensive end, our intensity just wasn't the same."
All the losses for USF (6-6) are by eight points or fewer, most with late leads that disappeared down the stretch. On Saturday, the Bulls hit one field goal in the final seven minutes. Immediately after a 3-pointer from Hugh Robertson pulled the Bulls within one, forward Ron Anderson looked to have blocked a JMU shot with 40 seconds left, but he was called for a foul, and Devon Moore hit both free throws.
"Biggest call of the night," Heath said. "That was a pivotal, pivotal, pivotal call. It shocked me."
JMU (8-3) got 24 points from power forward Denzel Bowles, who consistently drew fouls. The foul trouble was exacerbated by starting forward Augustus Gilchrist being at the end of the bench in warmups. By Heath's decision, Gilchrist didn't play after abruptly leaving the team for two games, rejoining the Bulls at Friday's practice.
In foul trouble from late in the first half, the Bulls' big men couldn't avoid unnecessary and costly fouls.
"Obviously the big difference in the game was fouls," Heath said. "Three big guys that all fouled out, that's a lot to tackle for us."
USF had strong nights from junior college transfers Jawanza Poland and Robertson, who each reset their career highs with 19 points, going a combined 7-for-15 on 3-point attempts. Robertson, who filled in at power forward at the end, had a double double with 11 rebounds, as did senior Jarrid Famous, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out with 3:53 left. Forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick fouled out with 6:24 to play, and the remaining post player, Anderson, fouled out in the final minute.
The Bulls next play Wednesday at Cleveland State.