The last time USF visited the Carrier Dome, the football team trampled all over Syracuse. On Sunday, most expected the opposite would happen to the men’s basketball squad.
But like they did against West Virginia last week, the injury-plagued Bulls (6-9, 0-2) showed they can play with the Big East’s top teams. Showing grit and perseverance, USF fought back from a double-digit second half deficit to scare Syracuse (13-2, 1-0) before falling 63-57 in front of a crowd of 10,325.
When Syracuse guard Louie McCroskey made a layup with 6:48 remaining in the second half, the Orange held a commanding 18-point lead.The game appeared to be over.
But then the Bulls ran off a furious 16-4 run to make the score 61-55 with 35 seconds remaining. The Orange then made enough free throws in the waning seconds to secure its closer-than-expected victory.
Senior guard James Holmes hit five three-pointers and led all scorers with 23 points. Solomon Jones was the game’s second-highest scorer with 14 points. The senior forward also led the Bulls with six rebounds.
A solid USF defense held Syracuse sharpshooter Gerry McNamera to only three field goals and 12 points.
Both USF and Syracuse hit 20 shots, but the Orange got to the free throw line more, shooting 17 for 29. USF finished 12 for 19 from the line.
Similar to the rest of the season, turnovers hindered a stall-prone USF offense. The Bulls, who lead the Big East in turnovers per game, committed 21 on Sunday.
With starting guards Chris Howard and Collin Dennis still injured, coach Robert McCullum used a rotation of only six players, five of whom played 31 minutes or more. Holmes, Jones and junior Melvin Buckley each played 39 minutes and point guard Chris Capko played 38.
With about 12 minutes to go in the first half, the Bulls led 11-8 as both teams committed turnover after turnover. The Orange then went on a 20-2 run on its way to an 11-point lead at the half.
The Bulls don’t play again until Saturday when they host St. Johns.