Concern number one for the Bulls: Less than 48 hours after a 26-point defeat, they had to play on the road against a surging UAB team.
Concern number two: They would have to do so without their most productive player.
Senior Terrance Leather was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team,” following USF’s 74-48 loss to Cincinnati on Thursday.
Leather, Conference USA’s fourth-leading scorer with 17.7 points a game, was held scoreless against the Bearcats and fouled out midway through the second half, after committing four fouls in the first half.
Leather, who is 31 points shy of 1,000 for his career, did not travel with the team and is suspended indefinitely.
Both Leather and coach Robert McCullum were unavailable for comment on the incident.
After the Bulls 85-71 loss to UAB (15-5, 5-2 C-USA), their sixth-straight conference defeat, USF (8-10, 1-6 C-USA) is now tied with Southern Miss for last place in C-USA. To make the conference tournament, USF must finish in at least twelfth place in the 14-team league.
The Blazers, who beat USF 62-61 on Jan. 8, scored 42 points off 28 USF turnovers. Three USF players had at least five turnovers.
UAB has won 11 of their last 13 contests.
“The one thing I thought we could do more than any other was to limit our turnovers,” McCullum said. “Of course, that is saying a lot anytime you play UAB.”
UAB committed 25 turnovers, from which USF could only muster 23 points.
“Half of their points came off turnovers,” McCullum said. “While 25 turnovers are certainly high for them, we weren’t able to capitalize on turnovers as they did.”
With Leather out, USF got three gutsy performances from its backcourt.
Senior guard Brian Swift was his usually reliable self, with 20 points and six assists. Swift has scored 47 points in the last two games and is averaging 15.9 this season, sixth highest in C-USA.
Senior guard Marlyn Bryant also was solid, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, to record his first career double-double.
But the story for USF was freshman guard Collin Dennis, who scored a career-high 25 points. The Texas native shot 7 of 15 from the floor and made 8 of 9 from the free throw line.
In USF’s only conference win of the year — a 72-71 win over East Carolina — Dennis secured the victory by sinking six free throws in the final minute and a half.
Trailing by 10 points at halftime, USF cut UAB’s lead to eight with two Dennis free throws with 19:39 left. But USF never got closer, as UAB led by as many as 20 in the second half.
The Bulls shot 45.5 percent in the second half, compared to 34.4 percent in the first.
“Despite how poorly we played in the first half, there were numerous opportunities to get back into the game,” McCullum said. “And yet, we were unable to capitalize.
“I think the turnovers by us were the storyline for the game. That was probably the single biggest area of concern coming into the game.”
Turnovers may have been the biggest concern against UAB, but for the season, the concerns seem to be mounting.