USF men’s basketball coach Robert McCullum said he goes back to visit Birmingham, Ala., at least two or three times a year because it’s always good to return home.
Tuesday night marked the first time McCullum traveled back to his hometown as the headman for the Bulls, but after Conference USA foe UAB trounced USF 86-47 in the Bartow Arena, McCullum may not be in a hurry for another return trip anytime soon.
Though the Bulls (6-8, 0-3) fought back from a huge first-half deficit to cut the Blazers’ lead to 12 points at the half, UAB virtually ran away with the game after that point and handed USF its third consecutive conference loss and third consecutive loss by 18 or more points.
“We got off to a slow start, and we certainly were aware of the dangers of falling behind to a team like UAB, especially on the road,” McCullum said on the 570 AM post-game show. “We cut it to 12 (points) at halftime, and I actually felt pretty good, considering. I thought we were very fortunate to only be down (that many).
“We thought just the way UAB played they would give you a chance — that they’d (either) blow you away or they stay and do some things and play in such a way to give you a chance to get back into it.”
USF opened the second-half with the ball, however, the Bulls watched UAB start the half on an 8-0 run, pushing the Blazers’ (10-5, 3-1) lead to 43-24. USF’s first points of the second half came almost five minutes in on a Terrence Leather field goal.
“You talk about a chance — it’s your ball to start the second half, as poor as we played, to cut it to 10 or nine,” McCullum said. “Unfortunately from that point on it just mushroomed and we never got it back within striking distance.”
One problem that hurt the Bulls was the lack of scoring threats on the team. Though Leather and guard Bradley Mosley form a good one-two combination for the Bulls, they are not enough to thwart off even the lower teams in the conference.
It wasn’t until the 6:21 mark in the second half, when Gerrick Morris made one of two free throws, that someone other than Mosley or Leather contributed a point for USF’s offense. For the remainder of the game, only guard Brian Swift managed to help Leather and Mosley on the offensive end. Swift hit one of two free throws with 4:03 remaining in the game.
USF trailed by as many as 44 points late in the second half, and McCullum noticed the lack of effort by his team, especially on the defensive end, when the game was already out of hand.
“When guys are making some baskets against rebounds when you’re already down 30, I mean gosh, we’ve got to have guys make plays before the game gets so far out of hand,” McCullum said. “That’s when you got to do it. That’s when basketball players get it done.”
Mosley scored a game-high 18 points for the Bulls, while Leather was the only other USF player to reach double figures with 14 points.
USF trailed 8-6 early in the game before the Blazers blew the game wide open with an 18-0 run. The Bulls went more than nine minutes without a field goal before Konimba Diarra’s jumper broke the scoring drought.
UAB countered with another 6-0 run to stretch its lead to 32-8, but the Bulls responded with a 16-4 run to close the half behind a pair of Mosley 3-pointers and two more from Sam Barber, making it 36-24 in favor of UAB.
McCullum understands there is still a long season ahead for the Bulls, and when he addressed his team following the loss, he talked to them about the effort needed in order for the Bulls to turn things around this season.
“What we talked about was the lack of effort, the lack of hustle plays on our behalf,” McCullum said. “There’s not one time or situation I remember or I recall when our guys actually got on the floor for a loose ball. Those are hustle plays and that’s where it all begins.
“You have to focus on doing those things that are going to give you a chance to win and prevent you from losing, and it all starts with hustle and fight and just making more of a concentrated effort.”