The already subdued Sun Dome crowd fell silent as junior forward Bo Zeigler lay on the floor clutching his left knee after colliding with the knee of an SMU player seven minutes into the first half Sunday.
An undermanned USF team that was already down to just six scholarship players couldn’t catch its breath against the No. 12 Mustangs (20-2, 9-2), falling 92-58 in front of an announced crowd of 2,857.
“It sucks to see somebody like Bo go down,” freshman guard Jahmal McMurray said. “We just have to fight for him while he’s down.”
Zeigler didn’t return to the game, leaving USF with just eight available players — the rest of the team bedecked in sweat suits and, in sophomore guard Troy Holston’s case, an eyepatch after scratching his cornea.
With forwards Chris Perry (suspended indefinitely) and Luis Santos (health issue) out — along with prior injuries to guards Roddy Peters (foot) and Holston (ACL) — USF had no choice but to dip further into its limited reserves.
Walk-ons Jake Bodway and Tre’ Bryant both played, with Bodway playing a season-high 26 minutes in the loss. The two combined for 4 points in 32 minutes. Prior to today’s game, Bryant had played just six minutes this season.
Pairing a depleting roster with a daunting, well-oiled opponent made for a long afternoon for USF, beginning from the opening tip.
“We started terribly, this game,” McMurray said. “We started really slow. They got out and started making shots early and we weren’t out there contesting.
“It’s hard to fight back when you start out like that.”
SMU began the game on an 11-0 run, hitting all three shots from beyond the arc. The Bulls fought back to bring the game within six, but SMU began to score with ease.
“They got in the lane because they were making shots,” USF coach Orlando Antigua said of his team, which allowed 42 points in the paint. “We had to overextend and that makes it easier for them to drive in the lane.”
A 19-6 run, ended by a pull-up 3-pointer by USF’s McMurray, fueled the Mustang’s dominant first-half.
McMurray was entrenched in a point guard battle with SMU’s leading scorer Nic Moore for most of the game until Moore was pulled late in the second half.
McMurray is tied for the nation’s most minutes played by a freshman averaging 35.3 per game. McMurray played all but one minute on Sunday, scoring a team-high 18 points.
The Mustangs stretched its lead to 22 by halftime, eliminating much chance for a comeback.
The narrative continued in the second half with a 20-9 SMU run out of the gate, giving USF little power to stifle it.
Before the Bulls could adjust, the Mustangs had already sprinted out to a 36-point lead — their largest of the game.
“I think we could’ve fought harder,” McMurray said. “With the kind of guys we have, we know that we’re down guys and we know the situation we’re in right now. But, at the end of the day, you still have to fight for what you want in life and your goals in life.”
In what has long been a lost season for USF (5-20, 2-10), the Bulls are just one win shy of the program record for fewest wins in a season with six games remaining.
For McMurray, it’s less about the win column and more about improving his game — coming from a guy averaging over 18 points in his last six games.
“I’m just trying to get better out there in every aspect of my game,” McMurray said. “I don’t really pay attention to everything else besides what coach wants me to do.”
USF gets a week off before traveling to take on Temple in Philadelphia on Sunday at 3 p.m. It’s a much-needed break for the ailing team.
“Right now this bye week is important for us just to get fresh bodies and see if we can recover from some of the injuries,” Antigua said.
—Follow on Twitter @JacobHoagUSF