Soaring with the Eagles

Once again, the USF men’s basketball team took a heavily favored conference opponent down to the wire.

And once again, it left disappointed.

In the final seconds at No. 22 Marquette on Saturday, Brian Swift’s three-point attempt bounced off the rim and the Bulls (8-6, 1-2 C-USA) lost their second straight Conference USA game, falling 66-64.

“I hope it’s helped (the players’) confidence,” USF coach Robert McCullum said. “I hoped it’s convinced them that they can play with anyone that we play.”

For most of the game, the Bulls did more than play with the Golden Eagles; they controlled them. Holding Marquette to 31 percent shooting in the first half, USF led for the first 25 minutes of the game and by as much as 11 points early in the second half.

But Marquette, led by guard Travis Diener, chipped away at USF’s lead by scoring 17 second-chance points on nine offensive rebounds.

Marquette tied the game at 57 with 5:08 left in the game and took the lead for good when Todd Townsend converted a three-point play with five seconds to go.

“We fully expect to win every game we play,” McCullum said. “That may sound unrealistic to other people. I told the guys before the season started that there is not a single team on our schedule that we cannot beat.”

Terrence Leather scored 16 points in the second half and led all scorers with 25 points. The senior forward shot 8 of 11 from the field and 9 of 11 from the free-throw line.

Leather has scored at least 20 points in seven games this season and leads the team in scoring with 19 a game.

“Every team has ‘go-to’ guys,” McCullum said. “All of our guys know their role. Terrence Leather and Brian Swift — those guys are going take the bulk of the shots. As long as something works, you stick with it.”

Swift struggled with his shots Saturday, making 3 of 13 from the field and 1 of 7 from the three-point line on his way to 8 points, tying a season low.

Swift is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.7 a game.

“When you look at our relatively inexperienced backcourt, and that’s even including guys that are upperclassmen that are not freshmen, relatively speaking they’re inexperienced, and the inconsistency we’ve had in scoring from those other positions and Marius’ (Prekevicius) injury only compounds the problem,” McCullum said. “So it would perhaps force Brian to be maybe a little bit more offensive-minded and in the process he’s taken some shots that he otherwise might not have taken — maybe feeling that he has to carry a little bit more of the offensive punch.”

The Bulls have now dropped consecutive conference games by a combined three points.

“It’s kind of hard to compare one disappointing loss to another, but if I had to base it on the reaction and response of our players, perhaps the Marquette game is the most disappointing for our players to deal with. And you just feel for them because they put themselves in a position to win, and that’s what we asked them to do.”