In a season that ended with bright new uniforms, Bulls fans may have hope of a brighter future for the men’s basketball team.
After letting a first-round win in the Big East tournament slip through their hands, the next season is all the Bulls (12-19, 3-15) have to look forward to now.
As spring break greeted USF students, the Bulls entered what was perhaps the most important game of the season, in which USF’s 46-42 overtime loss to Seton Hall (15-18, 3-15) marked an end to USF as a Big East contender.
The Bulls had the win within reach, matching their largest lead of the night with eight points, 37-29, over the Pirates with just 2:50 left in regulation.
As freshman forward Zach LeDay was charged with a foul, spurring an 8-0 run for Seton Hall, it was hard not to think back on the season and say “here we go again.”
After going 0-4 to start off-conference play in early Jaunary, it was clear that this wasn’t the same USF team that made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament last season.
Opening against a Syracuse team that brought with it a sea of orange to fill the Sun Dome wasn’t an easy start. Though the Orange played well below their Top 25 potential, USF couldn’t seem to find a way to score, but it was the lack of rebounding and ability to hold on to the ball that hurt USF the most, turning the ball over 17 times and getting out-rebounded by 17 as well.
The undersized, under-experienced Bulls team saw what was to come.
In the 0-4 start, rebounding proved tough for USF. The Bulls were out-rebounded in three of the four losses by 10 or more.
Perhaps it was time to turn things around and give fans hope – the Bulls finally won their first conference game and maybe even won over the fans in the win over Georgetown in the Sun Dome.
Forcing 15 turnovers from the Hoyas to the Bulls’ five and opening the game shooting 60 percent from the field certainly played a large role.
The Hoyas went on to learn from the loss in the Sun Dome and won their next 11 games, seeded at No. 1 in the conference tournament.
USF on the other hand, proved with 10 straight losses that winning wouldn’t be on its radar for a while.
While rebounding for USF continued to be an issue in the win drought, another weakness was revealed.
Two games after their win, the Bulls had a chance to upset Notre Dame, which was ranked No. 24 at the time.
Notre Dame quickly put USF fans back in their seat after an initial lead, rolling over the Bulls for a 73-65 win.
Playing full games – that was the next big weakness for USF.
Over the course of the next eight games, the Sun Dome was quiet.
One loss after the next, coach Stan Heath would try to explain each game, and whether it was the difficulty of the schedule or the simple fundamentals of holding on to the ball, there was always an issue.
No number of high-flying dunks by junior forward Victor Rudd, who led the Bulls in scoring with 12.3 points per game, could pull the team out of its slump.
Even after an impressive performance by senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick in his senior day game against DePaul, scoring 19 points in front of his family, and turning that into a second straight win against UConn in which sophomore guard Anthony Collins lived up to his average of double digit assists with 12 during that game, USF still ended the regular season with a loss to Cincinnati.
After losing momentum from a small win streak, the Big East tournament was next.
LeDay drained a lay-up. USF matched its largest lead of the night with eight as LeDay was charged with a foul on the following play. Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin nailed his two free throws, and went on to score six points on the 8-0 run put forth by the Pirates.
Twenty six seconds were left in the game when Seton Hall, the same team that started the 10 game losing streak for the Bulls weeks ago, was about to disappoint USF yet again.
As Rudd tried to maintain control of a point-blank pass on the sideline, tiptoeing between the hardwood and out-of-bounds, his attempt at a sideline catch was no use.
His highlighter-yellow sneakers barely skimmed across the sideline, turning the ball over to a Pirates team that couldn’t seem to miss.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, overtime was underway and USF came out flat, only scoring five points in the extra quarter to Seton Hall’s nine. The Bulls lost.
The plane ride back to Tampa came earlier than what the team would have liked.
But now, as seniors move on and the freshman learn all there is to do now is look toward the future with a new start in a new conference with a new name.