The USF men’s basketball team drew a season-high 6,027 fans to the Sun Dome for its nationally televised showdown with No. 18 Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Most didn’t stick around to see the ending, as USF lost 79-66 and fell to 1-2 in Big East play this season.
The Bulls (10-6, 1-2) played a very tough first half, taking an 11-10 lead early on. However, the Panthers (13-2, 1-1) showed why they are the No. 18 team in the country. The one-point lead would be the last time USF was in control, as Pittsburgh played the way a Top 20 team should.
The Panthers got a lot of leadership from their upperclassmen.
Junior forward Sam Young led the Panthers with 22 points, shooting an impressive 9-of-13 from the field. Senior guard Keith Benjamin – who was 8-of-12 from the field – scored 20. Bulls’ coach Stan Heath was impressed by the way the two players – especially Young – provided a spark for Pittsburgh.
“Sam Young, I thought, was terrific tonight,” Heath said. “I think he started the game very strong and hit tough shots all night. The best thing to happen for us was that he got a couple of fouls and had to sit down.”
The Bulls had no answer for Pittsburgh on defense, allowing the Panthers to shoot more than 53 percent from the field. Heath was less than pleased by his team’s defensive performance.
“It was a tough game for us today,” Heath said. “Our defense just wasn’t there. When somebody comes into your house and are able to shoot over 50 percent, it’s just not a good sign defensively.”
Poor defense was not the only problem the Bulls faced. USF saw four reserve players get a combined 44 minutes of playing time, but only sophomore guard Solomon Bozeman made a field goal. Heath realizes that bench production is crucial for success in the Big East Conference.
“I think (production from bench players) is very important,” Heath said. “We’ve got to find a way to get more points. We need to do something. I know all those guys are fighting. They’re trying hard, but we’ve got to find somebody to give us a little more.”
Even though USF dropped its second straight Big East game, there were a few bright spots in the performance.
Senior center Kentrell Gransberry tied his career-high scoring mark, leading all scorers with 26 points. He also had 11 rebounds on a night in which he shot 11-of-21 from the field.
“(Gransberry) was a force all night,” Heath said. “I thought he did a good job for us.”
Junior guard Jesus Verdejo also had a big night. Verdejo was 7-of-9 from the field and scored 17 points.
About midway through the second half, the Bulls trailed 59-54, and the crowd was energized. However, Pittsburgh came out from a timeout and managed to put the game away. A 14-2 Panthers run put the game out of reach for good.
A scary second-half moment saw sophomore guard Chris Howard leave the game with what looked like a knee injury, but Heath clarified that it wasn’t serious.
“He just had cramps,” Heath said. “He hasn’t had them in a while, but he’s had them before. We tried to IV him and get him back in there, and it was unfortunate that he couldn’t get back out there. He would have helped us.”
Despite the loss, Heath was excited about the turnout for the game.
“I thought we had a much better turnout,” Heath said. “We just have to go out there and do our part.”
“There was a lot of energy out there tonight,” Gransberry said. “We just have to go out and give a better effort on our home court, in front of our home crowd.”