After it pulled off a 20-5 run to take a two-point lead at halftime, USF (8-7, 1-3 C-USA) got banged around by Memphis in the second half on its way to a 73-67 loss at the Sun Dome on Wednesday.
“I think they kind of out-toughed us the second half,” said guard Brian Swift.
The Tigers (10-8, 3-1 C-USA) out-rebounded the Bulls 34-26 and sunk 30 of 36 free throws, many of which sealed the game for the Tigers in the final minutes.
With Memphis’ superior size and strength, USF coach Robert McCullum said he was worried about his opponent’s ability to rebound the ball.
“They were clearly the more physical team,” McCullum said. “And that was clearly reflected in the number of free throws they shot.”
Swift scored 23 points on 7 of 13 shooting and Terrence Leather scored a game-high 25 points as the Bulls lost their third consecutive Conference USA contest in front of a crowd of 4,037.
Swift and Leather each played 39 minutes and led the team in scoring.
“To have to rely on two guys scoring consistently, it’s not going to work,” McCullum said. “I told them after the game tonight.”
Darius Washington and Duane Erwin led the Tigers with 20 points each.
USF hung with the favored Tigers for the entire game, but Memphis, who didn’t score a field goal in the last five minutes, converted enough free throws to hold on.
The Bulls have lost their past three games by a combined total of nine points.
“We are sick of saying we almost did this, almost did that,” Swift said. “People are not going to remember you for what you almost did. We’re 1-3 in conference right now, and we ‘almost’ could be 4-0. That’s not good enough for me, and I’m sure it’s not good enough for Terrence and the rest of the guys.”
McCullum recognizes that his team is becoming aggravated with “almost.”
“I’m sure they are (frustrated),” he said. “They’re human; they want to win and all of us are disappointed.”
Memphis coach John Calipari had nothing but praise for USF and said the Bulls have made tremendous strides since their 1-15 2003-04 C-USA campaign.
“This is the most improved team in our league,” Calipari said. “For a team to go from one win last year to my prediction, to go 8-8 or right in that range or maybe better. And that’s after they’re starting 1-3 so you figure it out from here on in.”
McCullum returned the praise.
“This is probably the most physical of the three teams that we’ve played,” he said. “We don’t fare well against teams that are very physical.”