For the most part, the Bulls ran the court against the Tigers.
USF opened a 14-point lead against No. 21 Memphis midway through the second half.
This just added to a lengthy USF lead, spanning from midway through the first half to just over five minutes remaining in the game.
But in the final minutes, the Bulls (8-9, 1-3) lost control of the reins, and the Tigers (13-3, 2-1) came from behind to win 68-64 in front of an announced crowd of 5,209 at the Yuengling Center on Sunday.
Despite the loss, coach Brian Gregory gave Memphis the credit it was due, especially considering the Tigers rallied and made 70 percent of their final 10 shots.
“They kept searching, searching, searching to find the right alignment of guys and different things to do and just hung in there,” Gregory said. “Kept it within striking distance.”
Meanwhile, the Bulls went 1-of-10 to end the game.
“We went through a little bit of a cold spell shooting and we weren’t able to get the defensive stops during that time,” Gregory said.
Redshirt sophomore Zack Dawson made the only basket in those 10 attempts. He finished with 15 points and went 6-of-13 from the field.
“His feel for the game is getting better,” Gregory said. “He’s gifted offensively, he’s getting better defensively.”
Getting Dawson to refine his game could be key for the Bulls going forward.
“We’ve got to keep getting more and more out of him,” Gregory said. “He’s gifted, there’s no doubt about that.”
Junior David Collins was the top scorer on the court with 24 points, shooting 6-of-14 from the field and 11-of-15 from the free-throw line.
Memphis coach Penny Hardaway praised Collins’ impact on the Bulls’ performance.
“David Collins, man,” Hardaway said. “He’s an unbelievable player. One of the most underrated players in the country.”
While the Bulls produced offensively, they weren’t able to keep the pressure on the Tigers in the second half.
Memphis freshman Precious Achiuwa finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds to secure his fifth consecutive double-double.
Tyler Harris also stood out for Memphis, scoring 17 points.
Achiuwa and Harris’ contributions in the second half outmatched the Bulls’ defense.
“We weren’t able to get the defensive stops during that time that we needed to get,” Gregory said. “We had some defensive breakdowns obviously during that stretch, and when you do that, they’re so offensively gifted and long, they’re able to play behind you.”
Despite dropping a 14-point lead, the Bulls were within striking distance of beating their first ranked opponent in eight years — the last time the Bulls won against a ranked team was in 2012 at then-No.17 Louisville.
Considering the Tigers were on a two-game losing streak, having lost to AAC members Wichita State prior to winning at USF, it speaks to the growing level of the teams in the conference, especially when the Bulls were in reach of a win.
“We told them this even back in October: Every game in this league is going to be a tough game at home and on the road,” Hardaway said.