When the game was on the line on Sunday – USF down three to Cincinnati — the ball was in freshman guard Jahmal McMurray’s hands.
As the young playmaker drove down the court with precious seconds ticking off the clock, instead of pulling up for an errant shot, he found his teammate, senior guard Nehemias Morillo, in the corner for a much higher-percentage look.
Morillo missed the shot and USF (3-14, 0-3) was unable to end its skid, but McMurray’s maturing is unquestionable. Many freshmen rolling with the hot hand look to be the hero, but McMurray is beginning to learn otherwise.
“We talked in practice about, ‘Don’t be the hero, just make the right play. Consistently make the right play,’” USF coach Orlando Antigua said following the 54-51 loss. “If we can do that over the course of a game, we can put ourselves in position to win.”
Entering the season, McMurray – the No. 3 shooting guard in Kansas, according to 247sports.com — took a backseat to highly touted Transfer Roddy Peters, who transfered to USF from Maryland prior to last season. At that point, Peters was the guy.
It didn’t take McMurray long to establish himself as a strong offensive threat, leading the team in points in USF’s first two games with 21 and 17, respectively.
On Dec. 13, during a matchup with Power 5 member North Carolina State, Peters’ season was put into question when the sophomore rolled his ankle, putting him out indefinitely.
That gave McMurray an opportunity to showcase his talent. Since Peters’ injury, McMurray has emerged as USF’s top scoring option, averaging 13 points and a conference-best 34 minutes per game.
“I’m proud of Jahmal,” senior center Jaleel Cousins said. “He took a big step. Roddy got hurt and he’s had to really step up and he’s playing basically 40 minutes, keeping the team (going) and leading the team.”
Though his slick handles and acrobatic layups make the highlight reel, his effort on defense is what has helped USF hang with teams in recent weeks.
USF held Cincinnati to just 30 percent shooting and forced nine turnovers. McMurray finished the game with five rebounds and a steal. Despite the loss, USF held the Bearcats 20 points below their season average (74.9).
When the mindset switches from offense to defense, a tenacious attitude drives McMurray.
“Just being aggressive on defense and attacking them, not letting them attack us, putting our hands up on shooters, finding shooters and not letting people get comfortable,” McMurray said.
For McMurray, it’s not about being the hero. Prior to the season, he was a backup. Heading into tonight's matchup with Tulane, he’s now a focal point.