In its January meeting with Houston, the USF men’s basketball team couldn’t get its offense going. In the teams’ second meeting Saturday, the Bulls couldn’t finish down the stretch. The net result was the same, but Saturday’s 53-52 defeat had the added heartache of a lead lost in the final minutes.
USF held a 52-50 lead but failed to score a single point in the final 2:30 at the Hofheinz Pavilion. Turnovers and missed opportunities at the free-throw line thwarted the Bulls from picking up a much-needed Conference USA victory.
The Bulls’ best chance came when senior walk-on Brian Graham went to the free-throw line with 1:46 left. However, Graham missed both attempts, which would have put the Bulls in a much better position to win.
The Bulls then turned the ball over two more times, had a missed shot by Bradley Mosley and gave up the game-winning three-pointer to the Cougars’ Lanny Smith with just more than one minute remaining.
The Bulls (7-16, 1-11) likely must win three of their four remaining C-USA games to have a chance at making this year’s C-USA tournament.
“During the last four or five minutes of the game I thought Houston really turned up the defensive pressure,” USF coach Robert McCullum said. “They forced a couple turnovers and Lanny Smith made a big shot.”
While Smith made the shot for the Cougars (9-15, 3-10), Mosley failed to come up with the basket for the Bulls.
The Bulls had the ball with 10 seconds left, but Mosley drove through the lane and had his potential game-winning attempt blocked with three seconds remaining. Gerrick Morris and Graham then tried to retrieve the ball in the closing seconds, but neither player was able to get off another shot before time expired.
“(Mosley) was just looking to get some penetration, just looking to create a good shot,” McCullum said. “I don’t really know if he tried a shot fake and lost it or if it was knocked out of his hand. If we had it to do over again we would do the same thing. I liked the fact that we were able to advance the basketball up the way that we did and unfortunately we just didn’t get as good a look as we would have liked.”
The Bulls went to Mosley down the stretch, despite being led by junior Terrence Leather, who scored a game-high 22 points to go with his 14 rebounds.
USF was also paced by the play of senior center Morris, who had his second close encounter with a triple-double in three games, tallying a career-high 14 rebounds, 10 blocks and eight points.
“The loss overshadows an outstanding performance by both Morris and Terrence Leather,” McCullum said. “The last five or six games Gerrick has done an awfully good job of controlling the paint. The one area that Houston hurt us in most of the night was dribble-penetration. They were able to break us down and he was there a number of times. Even when he didn’t get a block, he altered shots. He just anchors the interior of our defense.”
Morris set the school’s single-season record for blocks, breaking Curtis Kitchen’s previous mark of 89 in the 1985-86 season. Morris now has 92 blocks this season.
Morris, who has 247 blocks to his name, also is threatening Kitchen’s all-time career blocks record of 257.
Morris will get his chance to break the record on national television when Marquette travels to Tampa on Thursday. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.