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USF falls to East Carolina for fourth straight loss

The Bulls’ Serrel Smith scores a season-high 18 points, but the Pirates pull away in the second half thanks to strong free-throw shooting.
USF coach Brian Gregory watches from the sideline during the first half against Houston on Jan. 18.
USF coach Brian Gregory watches from the sideline during the first half against Houston on Jan. 18. [ JUSTIN REX | AP ]
Published Feb. 18|Updated Feb. 18

TAMPA — For a second straight game, USF’s Serrel Smith scored a season high in points, but it wasn’t enough to prevent East Carolina’s 65-57 victory Thursday night at the Yuengling Center

Smith finished with 18 points, two days after scoring 17 in a loss to Tulane. The Bulls (7-18, 2-11) have lost four straight and eight of their past nine.

Tristen Newton had 14 points and 10 assists, and Vance Jackson had 16 points for the Pirates (13-12, 4-9). Brandon Suggs added 13 points, and Tremont Robinson-White had 10 points and six rebounds.

USF trailed 29-28 at halftime. It let the game get away in the second half before cutting a 10-point deficit to four with 28 seconds left. East Carolina iced it at the free-throw line, going 15-of-18 in the half and 20-of-24 for the game. USF finished 7-of-10 from the line.

“We gave them too many free baskets at the free-throw line in the second half with some undisciplined fouls,” said Bulls coach Brian Gregory. “Give them credit for making the most of those chances. I thought we competed at a high level again though tonight and were able to keep ourselves in the game. We just weren’t able to finish. The effort has been there, but we need the production to follow.”

The game featured seven lead changes and seven ties. The Bulls forced 17 ECU turnovers and pulled down 11 offensive rebounds but only scored 11 points off those turnovers and recorded six second-chance points.

Smith scored 12 of his points in the first half on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range and finished the night with a career-best five triples. He was the only USF player to score in double figures.

“Serrel has been consistently putting in the work all season, coming in every morning to shoot, and it’s good to see the results starting to come for him,” Gregory said. “It wasn’t just his scoring the other night that earned him the start, but the way he hustled and competed. He had a mature approach tonight and I was pleased with his shot selection.”

The game was a makeup of a postponed matchup from Jan. 1.

The Bulls conclude their three-game homestand and wrap up a stretch of six games in 13 days at noon Saturday against Tulsa.

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