With the team mired in a losing streak that included two of the worst losses in school history, it’s not a surprise that USF men’s basketball coach Robert McCullum found something positive to say following his team’s game against Memphis on Tuesday.
Though the Bulls (6-9, 0-4 C-USA) lost their fourth consecutive Conference USA game to the Tigers, 66-53, at The Pyramid, one day after losing their fifth player since McCullum took over the program, the first-year coach said he’s beginning to see signs of things finally moving in a positive direction.
“I’m not into moral victories, but I’m extremely proud of the way our guys fought,” McCullum said on the 570 AM post-game show. “I think our guys are coming to the realization of how we have to play to give ourselves a chance to win. To get guys to understand and embrace that is really important, and I thought our guys took a big step tonight coming out and understanding.”It’s certainly a start in the right direction.”
Despite holding the Tigers (13-4, 4-2) to 22 percent shooting in the second half and no field goals for the final nine minutes of the game, the Bulls couldn’t knock off any points from the 13-point halftime deficit. USF did manage to cut the Memphis lead to 10 points with just more than five-and-a-half minutes to play but couldn’t get any closer.
“We cut it to 10 points there, but we went like four or five possessions without scoring,” McCullum said.
Junior forward Terrence Leather led the Bulls with 15 points and 10 rebounds, his team-leading fifth double-double of the season, while junior guard Bradley Mosley chipped in 15 points, four rebounds and three assists.
The Bulls also got a good performance from sophomore James Holmes, who saw his first action in nearly three weeks after sitting out with an ankle injury. Holmes scored 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range, and McCullum said that is the type of performance he knew Holmes is capable of contributing.
“That’s his forte,” McCullum said. “James has been disappointed in himself, and we have been disappointed in him, but we never thought about giving up on him. Shooters can get mired in slumps that can last a long time.
“If you have a guy you know you can go to — what you might call instant offense — sometimes that’s worth more than having two or three bodies. We need guys to make shots, and hopefully James can stay healthy.”
USF fell behind early when Memphis built a 22-6 advantage to open the game, courtesy of numerous USF turnovers that led to a 16-2 Tigers run that was aided by a perfect 4-for-4 start from 3-point range.
USF eventually switched to a zone defense, and Memphis went cold from behind the 3-point arc. The Tigers made just 4 of 28 3-point attempts after the hot start. But the early deficit proved too much to overcome.
“The turnovers really hurt us there early on,” McCullum said. “We thought one of the things that would really help us was the amount of 3-pointers Memphis shoots. What hurt us in the zone was that they got second and third shots.”
But McCullum and the Bulls are in a positive frame of mind, which could be good heading into the team’s first home game in nearly three weeks against Houston on Saturday.
“I told them that if they’ll continue to stick together and play as hard as they played today — because we can play better — that the result is going to be different and I really believe that,” McCullum said.