TAMPA ― USF coach Brian Gregory has a go-to euphemism for grind-it-out, defensive tussles. True to his forecast, a “rock fight” erupted Tuesday at the Yuengling Center.
Most of the Bulls’ projectiles were in the shape of bricks.
On a night when wide-open looks were scarce on both ends, the Bulls (8-11, 1-5 American Athletic Conference) went the final 6:22 without a field goal in a 56-43 loss to Wichita State (16-3, 4-2).
The Bulls head to No. 25 Houston this weekend on a four-game skid.
“We’re just really laboring to score right now," said Gregory, whose team has failed to score 60 in three of those four consecutive losses. "Laboring to make the right play off our penetration, and we’ve got some guys really struggling to make some baskets. When you do that, your defense can only hold the fort so long.”
Before an announced Yuengling Center audience of 3,304, USF shot 30 percent (12-for-40) from the floor, managing only six field goals each half. Their season-low five offensive rebounds resulted in no second-chance points. From farther back, their frigidness matched the wind chill outside the building.
The Bulls hit only two of 15 3-pointers, and now are 6-for-41 (14.6 percent) from long distance in their last two contests.
“If you’re not shooting the ball well, get in the gym and be obsessed with it,” Gregory said. “Get 500 extra shots in and 1,000 extra shots in. If you’re not happy with something, you’ve got to work your way through it. It just doesn’t miraculously happen.”
Adding to the hosts’ frustration was a defensive effort good enough to prevail.
The Bulls held the Shockers scoreless the game’s first 5:45 but couldn’t capitalize on the other end. A step-back 3-pointer by freshman Tyson Etienne at the first-half buzzer gave Wichita State a 25-23 lead at intermission.
“The theme of the night was defend and rebound,” said Shockers coach Gregg Marshall, whose club snapped a two-game skid. “Had we given up 15 points, and it was 15-0 instead of 5-0, it’s a big difference. But the defense and rebounding kept us in it.”
Wichita State hit seven of its first 13 shots after halftime and went on an early 11-0 run for 36-28 lead before USF answered with seven consecutive points of its own to cut its deficit to 36-35 with 13:52 to play.
But the Shockers answered with a 10-0 run, starting and ending with Dexter Dennis 3-pointers, to take an 11-point lead that would prove insurmountable.
Junior David Collins led USF with 14, eight of those coming from the free-throw line. Dennis and Etienne combined for 25 for the guests, going a collective 7-for-15 from long range.