ORLANDO — A 20-point performance from David Collins and the return of Alexis Yetna were not enough for USF men’s basketball on Wednesday night as the Bulls fell to UCF 78-65 at CFE Arena in Orlando.
The trouble started early when UCF exploded for a 13-0 lead before the Bulls even cracked the scoreboard. It continued often — the Knights led by as many as 26 with 11:24 to go in the second half thanks to a second-half shooting percentage of 61 percent.
“They played well,” coach Brian Gregory said. “And we didn’t match that. I would say it’s the first time all year long, for lack of a better term, we laid an egg, but — when sometimes, if you say that, you’re discrediting what Central Florida did. They played really well.”
Adding to the woes were the number of USF turnovers — seven in the first half, directly leading to 15 UCF points.
“Obviously, they scored, I would say, probably half their points … were probably on our turnovers,” Gregory said. “And they ended up with 19 points [the entire game] on turnovers and that’s too many.”
The Bulls’ troubles weren’t just limited to UCF’s explosive offensive. Antun Maricevic and Michael Durr both fouled out of the game and two other Bulls — Collins and Laquincy Rideau — came within one of joining Durr and Maricevic.
Despite the slow start, USF found itself right back in the game toward the end of the first half. The Bulls ended the first half on a 16-13 run, cutting the lead to 11 points before UCF’s Terrell Allen hit a 3-pointer as time expired.
Through the first 10 minutes of the second half, UCF outscored the Bulls 26-18, sinking any chance of a comeback for USF.
“I thought a big kind-of couple minute stretch was the last minute of the first half, where we got it into a workable number for us and then gave up the 3 at the end of the half,” Gregory said. “And then the first play of the second half, we have the ball and really execute well and get a wide open 15-footer and miss and they go down and score on the other end.”
Yetna, who had not played since being injured Feb. 2 against Memphis, did not start but played 24 minutes off the bench, scoring four points and collecting 12 rebounds.
“I felt good — I feel like I still got to get back in the groove still with my jump shot and just the feel for the game,” Yetna said. “But, I feel all right, so I’m really excited about that. So, I’m just trying to focus for our next game Saturday against Temple. So, I’ll be ready, I would say.”
Gregory echoed Yetna’s sentiments about needing to get back in the groove of things.
“He seemed all right. A little rusty obviously,” Gregory said. “Had a couple of good looks at the basket that we could have used — 0-for-3 from the 3, I think all three of them were pretty open. But he gets 12 rebounds for us. Obviously, I wouldn’t have played him if he wasn’t clear to play and ready to play. The good news is he responded pretty well, just a little rusty on offense.”
The loss snapped USF’s five-game winning streak, which was its longest in conference play since 1991-92.
Up next for USF is a home game against Temple on Saturday evening. Gregory said that while it’s important to bounce back after a poor performance in Orlando, the rebuild that his program is in is not going to look perfect all the time.
“We’ve played pretty good [all season],” Gregory said. “Everybody would like the rebuild to be on a straight-line and everything is roses all the time. That ain’t going to happen — not in this league … we have to play very well on Saturday, because Temple, obviously, is one of the Top-4 teams in the league. So it’s important that we bounce back and play with the energy level and the intensity and the toughness that we’ve kind of started to build our brand on a little bit.”