NEW YORK — One night after its biggest win of the season, USF found the other end of the spectrum, seeing its season end with a resounding 87-61 loss to seventh-seeded and 25th-ranked Cincinnati in the Big East tournament Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
"Today just wasn't our day, and Cincinnati had a lot to do with it," said coach Stan Heath, who midway through the second half picked up his first technical in more than two years and whose team took its most lopsided loss of the season and matched the largest in his four seasons at USF.
"I'm proud of this group. We showed resiliency. We showed resolve. We showed character, you know, winning a huge game (Tuesday). We just didn't have enough fuel in the tank."
Point guard Anthony Crater, who hit the winner in Tuesday's 70-69 upset of 10th-seeded Villanova, missed the second half with a shoulder injury, but that wasn't the only reason the Bulls (10-23) lost. Cincinnati's dominant post game was one, as 6-foot-9 forward Yancy Gates shot 10-of-11 for 25 points and the Bearcats outrebounded the Bulls 36-25.
"Whenever you can play USF and be the better interior team, you're probably going to win the game, because that is their strength," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, whose team faces second-seeded Notre Dame tonight. "They did a great job all year beating people up with their big guys. Today, we had the best big guy, and it showed."
Gates had six quick points as the Bearcats (25-7) took an 8-0 lead. USF got within two late in the first half, but Cincinnati led by eight at halftime and extended that early in the second. Heath said the "emotional jolt" of not having Crater — who led the team in minutes played — was hard on the Bulls, who lost their school-record 23rd game, one more than in 2008-09.
Junior forward Augustus Gilchrist, who had 16 points, said Tuesday's win gave USF confidence, with so many players back next season. He has talked with Heath about putting his name in for early entry into the NBA draft but didn't want to talk about the chance that Wednesday could be his last college game.
"(The Villanova win) gave us some positive things to take with us this summer in a really bruising season for us," Gilchrist said. "I haven't thought about (the draft). I'm just looking at the game, reviewing it to see the things I need to work on this summer to try to become a better player."
Asked if he was returning, he was noncommital: "I'm going to work on being a better player."
Sophomore guard Shaun Noriega continued his strong play with 12 points, and the Bulls' only senior, center Jarrid Famous, had 10 points in his final college game, close to his home in the Bronx.
"(Villanova) was just a great win," he said. "The season could have been over yesterday. We were so excited waiting for the game today, but I don't think it carried over. We were still high off the win yesterday."