Stan Heath's lack of confidence in his bench has gotten so serious that he no longer can trust his reserves' ability to even check themselves into the game.
On Saturday, as his Bulls jumped out to a 19-5 lead, he called on freshman Orane Chin, who jogged to the scorer's table and pulled off his warmup, only to find his jersey on backward. Before he could literally turn himself around, Heath motioned to another player to enter in his place.
With zero points from what has become zero bench, the Bulls starters looked tired at the end of both halves, letting St. John's break off two dominating runs in a 72-58 loss in the Sun Dome.
There have been other losses more heartbreaking, more frustrating, more lopsided, but the Bulls will be hard-pressed to come up with one more deflating than Saturday's, their eighth in a row, which leaves them alone in last place in the Big East.
Playing at home against the team with the worst record in the league, USF got out to a 25-9 lead, igniting an announced crowd of 4,836 that included Bucs coach Jon Gruden sitting courtside with his father and three sons. The Bulls seemed well on their way to a resounding win and a dose of optimism for the second half of the Big East schedule.
The Bulls then hit a familiar wall, what has become a signature late-in-the-half collapse, with St. John's (8-12, 2-7) going on a 17-1 run to tie the score at halftime. The second half saw the same, as the Bulls trailed 46-45 with 6:30 to play, then gave up an 11-1 run as St. John's put the game away.
"We are a struggling basketball team, and we're having a hard time finding the basket," Heath said. "That game was pretty much decided at the end of both halves."
The last time the Bulls (10-12, 1-8) lost eight games in a row, it was in their 1-15 Big East debut two years ago. Halfway through an 18-game league schedule, it seems possible this team could manage a worse record.
"I hate to lose, period. It's hard to swallow, especially at home," Heath said. "You've got your fans here, cheering you on, giving you support, and you want to come through for them, want to get the monkey off your back. ... We haven't become that 40-minute basketball team."
Part of that is because his starters are nearly 40-minute players, with four playing 35 minutes or more Saturday. That wears on both ends: St. John's, which shot 67 percent in the second half, didn't miss a field goal in the final seven minutes, while USF missed eight straight as the Storm pulled away.
"All I ask these guys to do is come into the game and be a positive," said Heath, who got 24 points from freshman guard Dominique Jones. "Just don't hurt our team. They're hurting our team. It's a problem. I don't want to go backward when we make substitutions, and I don't think guys have figured out how they can go in and contribute."
Justin Burrell scored 22, 12 in the second half, to lead St. John's. He helped make up for the second-half absence of leading scorer Anthony Mason Jr., who limped off after re-spraining his left ankle.
The Bulls now go on the road for a game Tuesday at No.6 Georgetown, which sits at the other extreme in the Big East standings.
"Tuesday, what do we have to lose?" asked center Kentrell Gransberry, held to 10 points, seven below his average, and a season-low six rebounds.