If USF’s men can find a finishing touch to match their fortitude, a second consecutive postseason trip is attainable.
As it stands, they continue their flirtation with .500.
Down by 13 midway through the second half at East Carolina, the Bulls (8-8, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) rallied all the way back but again failed to close things in a 62-59 loss to the Pirates (7-8, 1-1) at Minges Coliseum in Greenville.
Junior David Collins, who scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half, had two attempts at a game-tying 3-pointer atop the key on USF’s final possession, but missed the first and had the second one blocked.
The defeat elicited bleak reminders of last month’s overtime loss to Utah State, when the Bulls led by four with 1:15 to play in regulation; and a 66-60 neutral-site loss to FSU when they squandered a 10-point lead in the last 6½ minutes
ECU, which went nearly six minutes without a point in the second half, took a 60-57 lead on Baruti Bitumba’s 3-pointer with 1:26 remaining following an ill-advised 3-point miss by Bulls rookie B.J. Mack. Collins’ basket cut USF’s deficit to one with 1:01 to play, but the Bulls came up empty on their last two possessions.
USF missed 13 of its first 15 shots en route to a 31-percent effort from the floor (9-for-29) in the first half, but trailed only 31-28 at intermission.
The Pirates hit nine of their first 11 shots in the second and ultimately built a 51-38 lead with 13:11 to play before the Bulls’ defense-inspired rally. Nine of ECU’s 13 turnovers occurred in the final 13 minutes.
Senior Laquincy Rideau’s jumper gave USF its first lead, 57-55, with 3:02 to go, but the Pirates scored the next five points. Rideau led USF with 16. Pirates low-post standout Jayden Gardner came a rebound shy of a double-double (23 points, nine rebounds).