TAMPA — USF star Dominique Jones believes his team has the ability to do some damage, perhaps more than ever, in the rugged Big East.
That's why he was so frustrated and disappointed Wednesday night.
Despite leading by 11 late in the first half then trailing by just two at the half, he and the Bulls were overrun by No. 10 West Virginia 69-50 before a season-high crowd of 6,110 at the Sun Dome. It was their fourth consecutive loss, all against their conference brethren.
"We still have a chance to have the best Big East season ever," Jones said. "It comes down to every player on the team looking at himself in the mirror and asking, 'Am I really putting in enough work to be a Big East player? Am I really putting in enough work to come out here and compete with the Da'Sean Butlers of the league; the Scottie Reynolds of the league?'
"It's up to us. It comes down to how bad we want it."
For a while Wednesday, the Bulls (10-6, 0-4) looked as if they wanted it badly.
With Jones scoring at will, the Bulls looked liked the nationally ranked team and jumped out to a surprising 23-12 lead with 7:52 left. Jones had 13 points by that time.
But sophomore guard Darryl Bryant had nine of his 13 first-half points in a little more than two minutes as the Mountaineers (13-2, 4-1) went on a 20-7 run to take a 32-30 lead at the break.
Could the Bulls do something they rarely do and beat a Top 25 team? (They entered 9-81 against ranked opponents, 3-19 since joining the Big East.)
Their play didn't reflect the want-to.
Sophomore forward Devin Ebanks, limited to two free throws in the first half, hit three straight field goals to fuel an 8-0 run that gave the Mountaineers a double-digit lead. Even worse for USF, the Mountaineers picked up their defense thanks to the play of redshirt junior guard Joe Mazzulla on Jones.
"Once Mazzulla face-guarded me and they started sending help, our players took it on that everybody needed to do by themselves," Jones said.
He was including himself. After he shot 7-of-10 in the first half for 19 points, Jones was 2-of-10 in the second to finish with 28.
"Joe went in and he did a better job on the ball and we did a better job helping (on Jones)," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "He's a really good player and he's really hard for one guy to guard. We talked to them for two days that we had to gang-guard him."
As a group, it was even worse. USF made 12 of 21 shots in the opening half (57.1 percent) but 5 of 31 (16.1 percent) in the second and hit 1 of 17 3-pointers overall. Their 32.7 percent shooting for the game was a season low, as was their point total. (They scored 52 against Louisville.)
Like his star, whom he pulled with 4:10 left, USF coach Stan Heath wasn't happy about the second half. Not with the lack of teamwork. Not with the apparent lack of effort rebounding and going for loose balls.
"We were selfish and we gave up on some of the battles we need to fight," he said, "and those are two things that just aren't acceptable and we're going to address in a big way (today) when we get together."
Mirrors all around, guys.
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.