PISCATAWAY, N.J. — If USF's deflating start to the Big East schedule could at least be explained away prior to Thursday night, with losses to two top-10 teams, there was little consolation after a 70-67 loss at Rutgers that left the Bulls as the only winless team in the conference.
The Bulls (9-7, 0-4 Big East) gave away a halftime lead and despite a late flurry that was led by Jawanza Poland, they could not claw all the way back. Poland scored a game-high 17 — 15 in the second half.
USF trailed by three as it got the ball back with 11 seconds remaining and one timeout left. But after Poland fumbled the ball on the rebound, costing almost three seconds, coach Stan Heath decided not to call the final timeout because he saw an opportunity to capitalize with the Scarlet Knights defense not set.
But Martino Brock missed a long off-balance 3-pointer with about two seconds remaining, shooting rather than passing to an open Poland in the corner.
"That's why I held on to the timeout because Poland had a hot hand and I thought we were going to make one more pass,'' Heath said. "(Brock) had a great look, the ball went in and out, so I don't fault that shot.''
Trailing 30-27, Rutgers (12-4, 3-2) opened the second half with an 11-2 run. Seven points came in transition, with Myles Mack's layup on the break giving Rutgers a 38-32 advantage.
USF played catch-up the rest of the way.
This was the stretch that Heath credited with changing the game, saying the Bulls let their guard down.
The Bulls lost their ability to control the pace, as Rutgers turned up the tempo from what was a slog in the first half.
Point guard Anthony Collins directed the USF offense, with eight assists and one turnover. He scored 11, one of four Bulls in double digits. Victor Rudd scored 11 and JaVontae Hawkins had 10.
"I thought our team showed kind of a little who they are,'' Heath said. "We were 0-3 and we're on the road at Rutgers and some teams might have just showed up, but we didn't. We played. … We'll win games if we continue to play where we are right now and continue to work and get better."