The USF men’s basketball team doesn’t just want a win; it needs one.
The Bulls’ (6-12, 0-5) latest loss – a 94-89 overtime defeat at the hands of Seton Hall (10-6, 2-3) on Friday – was their seventh in a row and the fourth in the Big East decided by six points or less.
“It was tough; we fought hard,” said senior guard James Holmes, who scored a career-high 35 points in the game. “We needed it way more than they did.”
USF’s fifth conference loss left the team with a record of 0-5 in the Big East, but the game against the Pirates stung the Bulls a little more considering they led by 13 points with 6:42 left in the game.
“It was a disappointing loss. I thought we did some things well,” coach Robert McCullum said. “But I thought down the stretch, Seton Hall was just a tougher team.”
Toughness aside, losing close games has been a recurring trend with the Bulls, who have lost conference games to West Virginia (by four), Syracuse (by six) and Georgetown (by three).Coming up short against the Pirates only added to the agony of the win-hungry USF players.
“To work so hard and to come so close,” senior center Solomon Jones said. “It was very tough.”Holmes had a similar opinion on the outcome.
“It was real tough,” Holmes said. “One of the toughest losses I’ve had in my career here.”The Bulls had three starters foul out, which McCullum admitted was the reason for the team fading down the stretch.
“We hit a stretch of foul trouble,” McCullum said. “We aren’t going to beat people if we don’t have Solomon Jones for the last four minutes.”
USF missed Jones, who had 10 points and nine rebounds before fouling out, primarily for his presence down low. After losing Jones and forward McHugh Mattis, the Bulls had trouble on defense in the game’s final minutes, and the Pirates ended regulation with a 17-4 run, then outscoring USF 16-11 in overtime.
USF’s foul trouble was just another wrinkle in a team looking for its first conference win as a member of the Big East.
McCullum does see some parallels in this team and his 2003 squad, which toiled near the cellar of Conference USA and finished the season with a conference record of 1-15.
“In some ways there are some similarities,” McCullum said. “But this team is different. The record may be similar, but I’m actually enjoying this team a lot more than that one.”
The Bulls are certainly not enjoying the losses, but they can take solace in the fact the Big East is widely considered one of college basketball’s best conferences. Teams such as West Virginia, which is first in the Big East standings, and Georgetown, which recently upset No. 1 Duke 87-84 on Saturday, were all teams USF held to close games.
Some USF players, such as Jones, insist on keeping a positive attitude throughout the rest of the season.
“We got to just stay motivated,” Jones said. “We know we’re going to have more close games. We feel that there aren’t going to be too many games where we are just blown out.
“They are going to be real close – we just got to find a way to come out with a victory.”