A matchup of two teams chasing a tournament bid took place Thursday night, as the USF men’s basketball team and Marquette played to a 70-63 Golden Eagles victory.
With the Golden Eagles hoping for a repeat appearance in the NCAA Tournament, they showed their aggression and hunger early, beating the Bulls on the score sheet and on the boards
“They came out aggressive,” junior Brian Swift said. “More aggressive than we were. Like coach said, they were fighting for a tournament spot as well.
“You can sense early on, they wanted it a little more.”
Marquette out rebounded the Bulls 21-8 in the first half, including 11 of Scott Merritt’s game-high 15.
“Ugly,” Swift said. “That’s the only word I can use is ugly. Their effort was a lot harder than ours on the offensive glass.”
The Golden Eagles dominated on the offensive boards, pulling down 15 in the first half and finishing with 22, more than tripling USF’s seven.
“Rebounding, from my perspective, tells the story,” USF coach Robert McCullum said. “They were clearly the more physical and aggressive team. They fed off that and that impacted other areas of the game.”
The Bulls, who are fighting for a bid in the Conference USA Tournament, picked up the effort during the second half, bringing the once 16 -point deficit down to six.
USF picked up the hustle on the glass and went on an 11-1 run with 13 minutes left in the game.
After the lackluster effort, Swift rallied his team to go after the win.
“I tried to get after some guys, get them mad at me,” Swift said. “I asked the guys if they where ready to play, and things like that. (I said), ‘Let’s come on, play with me,’ but I said it like a yelling type of way to get them to respond.”
While the Bulls matched the Golden Eagles’ effort during the second half, the clock ticked down under a minute, and rebounding hurt USF again.
With 45 seconds left, Travis Diener missed a three-pointer followed by Chris Grimm grabbing the offensive board and sealing the game.
“Even until the end, they continued to get one offensive board after another,” McCullum said. “At that point we cut it to six, it was a two possession game. We came out of the time out, and I said, ‘We don’t need to foul, we’re going to get the ball back.’ We defended well, and (they got the rebound).”
Diener led the Golden Eagles, scoring 20 points, and Terrene Leather paced the Bulls with a game-high 21 points.
USF’s Gerrick Morris came up five blocks shy of setting a new school record, swatting six Golden Eagles’ shots.
The Bulls will have to step up the rebounding intensity Saturday when they travel to East Carolina.
“In Saturday’s game the rebounding is going to be a big key,” McCullum said. “Because, East Carolina down the stretch hurt us.”