Maybe it was just time for USF’s magic to run out.
The Bulls (15-8, 5-6) couldn’t overcome a slow start and a poor day from the free-throw line, shooting 50 percent, as their four-game win streak came to a halt at Notre Dame on Sunday afternoon with a 65-62 loss.
“At the end of the day, I look at one stat and it’s a huge stat,” said USF coach Stan Heath. “When you shoot 10-of-20 from the free-throw line, it’s a little bit of a doomsday.”
Junior guard Dominique Jones, averaging 35 points in his previous four games, missed his first seven shots and finished with 10 points on 3-of-17 from the floor. Jones, however, had eight assists. Guard Chris Howard and center Jarrid Famous had career-highs of 23 and 18 points, respectively. “Today wasn’t ‘Nique’s’ day,” Heath said. “He’s been Superman for a long time. They had a little kryptonite to slow him down … both Howard and Famous stepped up in a big way.”
Famous, however, had a chance to tie the game at 63 with seven seconds remaining, slamming home a dunk while Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody fouled him. But Famous missed the free throw that would have tied it.
Harangody’s two free throws then put Notre Dame ahead by three with four seconds left and Jones’ 3-pointer at the buzzer clanked off the back of the rim.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win,” Howard said. “We know what we did wrong … we were 10-of-20 on free throws and if we hit five of those, we win.”
The Irish (17-7, 6-5) built early leads of 16-2 and 25-10, but USF would not back down, rallying to tie it at halftime. Harangody, who entered the game first in the Big East in scoring with 24.8 points per game, went 5-of-17 on the day. Guard Tory Jackson, who entered averaging 7.7 points, scored 18.
“We did a good job on Harangody but we have to figure out a way to stop some of those other guys,” Howard said.
After losing four straight to begin Big East play, USF, which entered Sunday with an RPI of 48, had won five of its last six. USF had won its previous two road contests against Providence and No. 8 Georgetown, which beat No. 2 Villanova on Saturday.
“Psychologically, we do feel like we can go in some buildings and win games,” Heath said. “(Notre Dame) isn’t losing too many games. It wasn’t going to be easy. As the show goes on the road again, we’ll improve and we’ll be better … It was a gritty effort. We dug ourselves a huge hole. We battled back … we’ve got a good basketball team. We’ll regroup and we’ll recover from this.”