For the first half of Wednesday night’s game, the Bulls played perhaps their best half of basketball this season.
However, in the second half, that team was nowhere to be found.
Fifth-ranked Pittsburgh came out firing after the break, going on a 14-2 run that gave them the lead for the rest of the game. The Panthers (26-4, 14-3) handed USF (9-21, 3-14) its 11th loss to a ranked opponent this season, winning 66-50 and clinching their sixth Big East title in 10 years.
Ashton Gibbs led Pittsburgh, coming out of the locker room finishing 16 points, including four second-half 3-pointers.
“We knew who Ashton Gibbs was in the first half – he was one for four,” coach Stan Heath said of Pittsburgh’s leading scorer. “We forgot who he was in the second half and he lit us up – why we left him, I have no idea.”
Nasir Robinson added a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Panthers out-hustled USF on both ends in the second half, sapping the energy out of the previously ecstatic crowd.
On his last night playing in the Sun Dome, Jarrid Famous had a passionate performance – recording a double-double in the first half and finishing with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“I wanted to go out there and just give it my all on the court,” Famous said. “It’s my last game in the Sun Dome so, you know, I just wanted to put it all out there for the fans.”
The Bulls went into the break leading 27-24 only to see that lead quickly dissolve. The Panthers began to penetrate with ease, setting up wide-open layups and 3-pointers. A South Florida defense that visibly frustrated Pittsburgh players in the first half could not keep up in the second.
“They cranked things up in the second half and I think we didn’t match the intensity level we had in the first half,” Heath said. “We just didn’t sustain it.”
On the other end, the conference’s top-ranked defense held the Bulls to just 23 second-half points, scoring 42 of their own. After USF out-rebounded in the first half, Pittsburgh out-rebounded the Bulls in the second 20 to 10.
Augustus Gilchrist started out on fire making four of his first five shots. After the Panthers tightened their defense, he went just two of eight. USF played with patience on offense, committing only eight turnovers, but could not find ways to match the offensive production of the streaking Panthers.
The Bulls shot 43 percent in the first compared to 29 percent in the second. South Florida plays its final game of the season on the road against No. 15 St. John’s at 8 p.m. Saturday. The Bulls are 1-11 on the road this season.