It’s been a season filled with close losses and near misses for South Florida, and Saturday’s game was no different.
USF stayed close until the final minutes of the game, but No. 20 Villanova pulled away in the last 60 seconds and edged out of the Sun Dome with a 70-61 victory.
“It was a tough game,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “They’re a great team. They play hard and we play hard. I thought we battled them and battled them, but to beat a team like that we have to hit the open shots.”
The Bulls, who trailed by two late, shot 35.2 percent from the floor and finished 7-for-22 from three-point range.
Freshman Augustus Gilchrist, who had a game high of 18 points, hit one of two free throws to cut the Wildcat’s lead to 60-58 with 1:34 remaining.
However, Villanova forward Dwayne Anderson made an acrobatic lay-up while being fouled. Then, guard Scottie Reynolds put the game out of reach with free throws as the clock and the crowd of 4,245 dwindled.
The Bulls had four players finish in double figures. Senior Jesus Verdejo scored 13, junior Chris Howard had 15 and sophomore Dominique Jones finished with 11 after fouling out at the 5:28 mark in the second half.
“We really tried to get the ball out of (Jones’) hands,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “He not only leads USF in scoring but assists, too. He creates for others.”
After exchanging eight lead changes in the first half, the teams were tied 32-32. The Wildcats, however, began the second half with a 7-0 run.
“A key moment was the start of that second half, and (Villanova) came out pretty well,” Heath said. “We really needed momentum to come out and start the second
Howard said he hopes the Bulls can learn to win close games.
“Hopefully guys like me, (Verdejo) and (Jones) can get us over this hump,” Howard said. “If it’s going to happen, it’s up to us to explain that every possession is important.”
USF is 2-6 in games decided by single digits this year, including losses at West Virginia, Alabama-Birmingham, Virginia and Syracuse.
Heath said he is disappointed with the results, but not with the way his team has played.
“We can’t fault the guys on their effort,” Heath said. “I thought they fought out there to get the win. It’s not enough just to get close, for us. We have to find a way to finish games like this.”