TAMPA ― Any mojo or momentum USF gathered during its recent three-game win streak appeared to vanish early Saturday afternoon, supplanted by a new benchmark for offensive futility.
Less than 72 hours after standing toe-to-toe with No. 20 Houston in a four-point defeat, the Bulls (11-14, 4-8 American Athletic Conference) struggled to muster so much as an offensive jab in Saturday’s first half against Tulsa, falling 56-48 before a Yuengling Center audience of 3,095.
USF’s 11 first-half points were the fewest in a half in the program’s 49-season history, eclipsing the old mark (12) established in the first half of a 55-47 loss to Saint Louis on Feb. 9, 2005.
“It’s a challenge when you spill everything on Wednesday night, to be able to bounce back with the same energy, same effort level, same focus that you had,” Bulls coach Brian Gregory said.
“Good teams, that’s what they do; they’ve been able to master that. We did that for the last 20 minutes, we didn’t do it for the first 20.”
Lacking crispness and aggressiveness against Tulsa’s matchup zone, the Bulls ended the opening half with nearly three times as many turnovers (13) as field goals (five). Tulsa (17-8, 9-3) had only eight field goals and went 1-for-11 from long range in that same span, but committed only five turnovers.
“The first half, there wasn’t good energy,” USF junior Justin Brown said.
“We were not as ball strong as you need to be, and we were maybe not as sharp,” Gregory added. “We didn’t cut as hard, we didn’t drive with the strength that you need to drive with.”
Behind Brown’s pair of 3-pointers, USF went on a 10-0 run early in the second half to cut its deficit to 30-26. But Tulsa consistently responded, coming up with key baskets via dribble penetration and hitting 15 of 16 second-half free throws.
As a result, the Golden Hurricane’s lead never fell below four in the second half. USF actually finished with more field goals (17-15) than Tulsa, and even a better overall shooting percentage (38.6-35.7), but had more turnovers (18) than made baskets.
“You wouldn’t think we actually shot better from the field than they did,” Gregory said. “It’s just that when you have 18 empty possessions, it’s gonna be hard-pressed to be successful.”