TAMPA — A wild 3-pointer doomed USF on Friday night at the Yuengling Center.
Trailing by two with 2.7 seconds remaining, South Carolina State’s TJ Madlock got the ball in the corner. With his back to the rim and USF defenders draped over him, the freshman guard leaped, twisted and heaved up a 3-pointer. The ball ripped through the net with 0.6 seconds left, giving the Bulldogs a 65-64 victory.
USF’s final desperation inbounds toss was batted away.
Now for the next 11 days before they play again, the Bulls will have to think about a shot that dropped them to 3-4 on the season.
“It was a crazy shot at the end that went in, but like coach (Brian Gregory) said to us, ‘We can’t have the score that close at the end,’” said forward Jake Boggs, whose tip-in with 11 seconds left gave USF a 64-62 lead.
Gregory said there were plenty of things his team should have done to prevent the last-second shot from ever being an issue: better perimeter defense (South Carolina State made 13 of 31 from 3-point range); tougher play under the rim (the Bulldogs had 12 offensive rebounds); sharper shooting (USF shot 37.3 percent from the field and 22.2 from 3-point range); and more intensity.
Just before the winning shot, for instance, Gregory said he was disappointed that his team failed to secure a rebound on a missed 3-pointer by the Bulldogs (2-7).
The fact USF basically has an entirely new team this season — 10 new players, including eight transfers, tied for the most among Division I schools — might be showing in their early season performance.
“There has been some lack of connection, which has shown on the offensive end,” Gregory said. “We just have to keep grinding. We have some guys who are capable of playing better, and I’m confident they will play better.”
Simply shooting better would help. Before Friday’s loss, the Bulls had shot over 40 percent from the field only twice and had not shot better than 33 percent from 3-point range.
“We spend a lot of time shooting (in practice), and there is a lot of extra shooting,” Gregory said. “But we’re just not shooting the ball very well right now. We’re in a tough spot.”
That’s one of the reasons Gregory has stressed playing better defense. Before Friday, the Bulls ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense (55.8 points a game) and had allowed just one team to score more than 60 (64-49 loss at Boston College on Monday).
USF also ranked 35th nationally in opponent 3-point shooting (27.1 percent) and had held four opponents under 30 percent from 3.
“The way we’re playing (offensively), we have to be exceptional in every aspect on the defensive end,” Gregory said.
Amid Friday’s frustration, there were a few bright spots for the Bulls, including guard Caleb Murphy, who finished with a game-high 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Boggs also had a solid night with 16 points while center Russel Tchewa finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
As a team, the Bulls had their best shooting night from the free-throw line, making 16 of 19. Before Friday, the Bulls had shot a combined 59.7 percent (46-of-77) from the line.
• • •