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Almost had it again

The same taste was left in their mouths.

The men’s basketball team (6-13, 0-6) lost another close Big East game to No. 6 Villanova 49-46 at the Sun Dome on Tuesday.

The team’s theme has been consistent all season: close games ending in disheartening losses.

“We’re not going to issue apologies,” coach Robert McCullum said. “Against (this) experienced team, I thought our guys did a great job. When we needed to get a basket, we couldn’t (get one), and in the end, I think that’s where they prevailed: their experience.”

The Bulls’ eighth-straight loss in front of a crowd of 5,463 is now the team’s sixth loss of six points or less.

USF has had at least four chances – two against nationally ranked teams – to secure a Big East win, but there has been a perennial hump the Bulls can’t seem to get over.

Tuesday’s loss was arguably the closest shot USF had to secure a Big East win, next to either the 13-point lead the Bulls blew at Seton Hall on Saturday or the three-point loss USF was handed by Georgetown on Jan. 17.

Senior Solomon Jones sees the hump, but said that with practice, the team can overcome it.

“We have to just come out tomorrow,” said Jones, who finished the game with just seven points but a team-high 17 rebounds. “We can’t – I mean, we can’t just keep our head down. We have to see what plays we messed up on and come back at it next time.”

The Bulls had a seven-point lead with 5:58 left in the game after senior James Holmes -the team’s leading scorer – hit a three-point shot to put the score at 41-38. Holmes accumulated three fouls in the first half and a fourth in the second, then walked a tight rope, making sure not to foul out late in the game.

However, the Wildcats answered after Holmes’ three-pointer with a Mike Nardi three-pointer of his own. After the shot, Villanova (14-2, 5-1) went on an 8-0 run that took only 1 minute, 9 seconds. The Bulls scored only one more point in the rest of the game due to costly turnovers on bad passes by McHugh Mattis and Collin Dennis.

“That was a huge possession,” McCullum said. “That changed the momentum, and (Villanova) capitalized on it. That really makes you wonder what’s going to happen next. But all these (losses) are kind of leaving bad tastes in our mouths.”

In the first half, USF held the Wildcats – who played without leading scorer Allan Ray due to a hamstring injury – to a record-low 18 points as the Bulls went into halftime with a three-point lead. Villanova coach Jay Wright accredited his team’s lowest shooting percentage (29.6 percent) since losing 58-55 to No. 4 Texas to a “tough South Florida defense.”

“That was a typical tough road game in the Big East,” Wright said. “I have a lot of respect for them. They are very prepared. They can defend. I mean, we didn’t do a lot of things right tonight – shooting, execution, defense – but that team is going to win some games in this league.”

In a game where the lead changed 13 times and was tied nine times, USF had more rebounds (44-33) and blocks (10-7) than the Wildcats. Villanova attempted nearly double the amount of three-pointers that USF did and shot only 78 percent from the free-throw line, a stat that nearly helped the Bulls.Villanova’s uncharacteristically low stats added to the bitter taste of defeat.”It’s tough (to tell) what it is (we have to get past) to win,” Holmes said. “We have to stop relaxing late in the game. We have to keep hustling because it’s the whole (team). We’ve proved we can hang with any team. Sooner or later, it won’t taste bad anymore.”