South Florida trailed by just two with eight minutes left to play when sophomore Shaun Noriega stole the ball and had a fast break layup roll off the rim. Just 40 seconds later, the Bulls found themselves down eight and unable to regain their momentum.
The No. 4 Panthers (24-2, 12-1) took advantage of the Bulls’ (8-19, 2-12) late-game slip-ups on their way to a 67-55 win at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh. Panthers guard Brad Wanamaker and forward Nasir Robinson each put 13 points toward helping their team to its fifth-straight conference victory.
In a defensive battle, missed opportunities once again led to South Florida’s fifth straight loss. Offensively the Bulls were patient but couldn’t consistently finish plays – using the entire shot clock, only to get off low-percentage shots.
A pair of Jarrid Famous free throws brought USF within one point with 10 minutes to play, setting the stage for the Bulls to pick up their first win over a ranked opponent all season.
But Pittsburgh went on a 17-3 run in the next nine minutes, during which the Bulls committed six turnovers.
On defense, the Bulls had active hands but at the expense of defensive rebounding. The Panthers finished with 15 more offensive rebounds and attempted 12 more field goals than USF.
Noriega led his team in scoring for the second game in a row with 11 points. He hit back-to-back threes just before halftime to cut the Panthers’ lead to seven. Junior Augustus Gilchrist came off the bench for 10 points but collected just one rebound.
Pittsburgh out-rebounded the Bulls 40-18 and turned South Florida mistakes into easy points. Of their 25 field goals, 14 were layups or dunks. The Panthers showed why they are the No. 1 team in the conference, capitalizing on just about every Bulls’ mistake. Conversely, USF failed to capitalize on any of Pittsburgh’s errors.
The Bulls’ second-leading scorer Jawanza Poland logged just 10 minutes of play and was held scoreless. USF will have a second chance at the Panthers when they travel to Tampa on March 2.
Until then the Bulls will focus on the No. 9 Georgetown Hoyas. Tip-off is Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Sun Dome.