TAMPA — A couple of months from now, when bracketology is a buzzword and RPI is the statistic of preference, USF's deflating loss Saturday night against Detroit could haunt its psyche.
Or even burst its bubble.
The Bulls (4-2) squandered an eight-point lead in the second half's first five minutes and never seemed to regain their rhythm. The Titans (4-4), meantime, converted 11 of 12 free throws in the final 4:30 to clinch a 65-60 win before a Sun Dome audience of 3,225.
"Yeah, it's going to come back to haunt us," said senior guard Martino Brock, who scored 16 but missed a hasty 3-pointer with 35 seconds to play and the Bulls down by three. "I think down the stretch we made bad decisions. I put a lot on me."
The second-half numbers betray the ugliness of the defeat. USF, leading 31-23 at halftime, had eight second-half field goals, was outrebounded 23-18, sank 11 of 19 free throws and committed 15 fouls.
"I think my leaders need to step up, make sure it doesn't happen," coach Stan Heath said of his team's penchant for slow second-half starts. "They're coming out, they need to set the tone. They need to get out on the court and warm up correctly. They need to assert the game the right way."
The Bulls still had a chance in the waning moments. Brock, successful with dribble penetration most of the night, drove for a dunk to cut USF's deficit to 58-56 with 1:22 to go. He sank a free throw 28 seconds later.
Detroit's Jarod Williams (8-for-8 from the line for the game) answered with two free throws with 48 seconds left. Nine seconds later, Bulls senior Victor Rudd missed a 3-pointer from the right side.
Zach LeDay got the rebound, but Brock followed with his miss. The Titans rebounded and 6-foot-8 forward Evan Bruinsma was fouled, setting up his two free throws with 32 seconds to go for a 62-57 lead. USF never got within two the rest of the way.
Now the Bulls find themselves at a pivotal juncture, trying to regroup from a two-game skid with games at George Mason and against Alabama over the next six days.
"If that doesn't send a message," Heath said, "I don't know what does."