Tuesday night’s USF men’s basketball game against East Carolina began the same way most Bulls games have during their season-long losing streak. But one thing was different.
Rather than watching the opposition run away with games late with big runs, the Bulls were able to fight back in the closing seconds to put themselves in a position to pick up their first win of 2004.
However, the Bulls didn’t manage to pull out the victory, as freshman Konimba Diarra missed a baseline jumper with time winding down, extending USF’s season-long and Conference USA losing streak to six games after a 59-57 loss to the Pirates in the Sun Dome.
“I don’t think words can describe just how I feel right now,” junior guard Brian Swift said. “It was a good game. It came down to the wire. We had a couple chances to take the lead at the end. They missed a couple of key free throws, but (we) couldn’t capitalize on it. It’s tough when you can’t capitalize on things like that, that put you in a position to win.”
The Bulls’ final play was drawn up to go to Swift, who made 6 of 11 3-point attempts and scored a career-high 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
But Swift was triple teamed when he came off the screen in front of the Bulls’ bench, and he was forced to dump the ball off to Diarra, who had an open look along the baseline.
“I saw the guy that was guarding me fly by, but I knew I had two other guys that were kind of right there guarding me,” said Swift, who also dished out seven assists to go along with his two rebounds. “I was going to throw the ball to Bradley (Mosley), but there was a man kind of by him. Next thing I saw, I just seen Konimba standing there wide open and I just threw it to him.
“It was a good look for him, but unfortunately he missed it. I don’t fault him for taking that shot because he makes that all day in practice.”
The loss was ECU’s first road win of the season, its first win after eight consecutive losses and its first road win since entering the conference in 2001-02.
Though USF trailed most of the game by double digits, the Bulls were able to cut the deficit down to one when junior Terrence Leather, who started slow but finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key, bringing the Bulls within one with 20 seconds remaining.
USF then was forced to foul after the Pirates inbounded the ball, but ECU forward Erroyl Bing missed both free throw attempts.
Mosley then took the rebound and dribbled up court, looking to drive to the hole for a quick layup. However, an ECU defender poked the ball away, recovered it and got fouled, resulting in USF’s only turnover in the second half.
“I guess I didn’t think Bradley realized how much time was left, and he was trying to make a play,” Swift said. “I don’t fault anybody for trying to make a play. Unfortunately, the dude hit it or whatever, but things like that happen.”
The Pirates made one of two free throws to put them up two points with 11 seconds remaining before Diarra missed USF’s final field-goal attempt.
Though the Bulls haven’t won a game since winning the USF Holiday Classic championship in late December, coach Robert McCullum noticed some changes in his team that he believes could help the Bulls get over their recent skid.
“I thought we did enough things to give ourselves a chance to win, and that’s what you have to do in order to win, is put yourself in a position to win,” McCullum said. “And this is perhaps the first time in the six conference games that we’ve done that. That’s all you can ask.
“Certainly we had some breaks go our way, and unfortunately we had some down the stretch — the last shot or two and the last couple of possessions — that didn’t. That’s how it goes and hopefully we can regroup and take some of those things we did well tonight into the (next) game.”
Four USF players scored on the night and all four finished in double figures. In addition to Swift and Leather, Mosley added 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds while senior center Gerrick Morris, who started in place of junior Brandon Brigman, who was sick following a “medical procedure,” had 12 points, six rebounds and five blocks.
“(The loss) hurt, but it’s something we got to get over,” Morris said. “We just got to try and get better so we can get a win at Tulane (on) Saturday.”