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Men fall apart against No. 10 Pittsburgh

Last season the men’s basketball team struggled in Big East games, finishing with just one win. But despite the Bulls’ 15 conference losses, they battled some of the top-ranked teams in the nation and kept eight of their losses to single digits. That hasn’t been the case after two Big East games this season.

USF (9-7, 0-2) was dominated 69-48 by No. 10 Pittsburgh (14-2, 2-0) on Sunday as the Bulls dropped their second straight road conference game. USF opened Big East play with a 69-50 loss to No. 18 Connecticut on Tuesday.

The Bulls hung with the Panthers early on, trading the lead seven times with the conference’s highest-ranked team. But USF fell apart in the latter part of the first half when Pittsburgh went on a 13-4 run, putting the game out of the Bulls’ reach.

“We let it get away from us,” said center Kentrell Gransberry, who scored a team-high 14 points and finished one rebound shy of his fifth double-double. “They went on a nice little run. They did what they had to do to win the game.”

USF went into the game last in the Big East in turnover margin (-2.07), and it had 15 giveaways Sunday that resulted in 17 points for the Panthers.

“We’ve got to limit our turnovers, do a better job at defending the three and do a better job at rebounding,” assistant coach Greg Gary said. “We know what our issues are – obviously they are concerns, but it’s no time to panic.”

The Bulls have been plagued with injuries the past two seasons, and soon after transfers Jesus Verdejo and Gransberry became eligible last month, they lost two more scholarship players.

Guard Chris Capko (ankle) and forward Aris Williams (both knees) have each missed six games, leaving USF with five of its 12 scholarship players unable to play.

The Bulls’ lack of depth has made it difficult to keep pace with their opponents the past two games, as they’ve been outscored 50-2 in points off the bench.

It’s not clear when Capko and Williams will be back, but freshman Chris Howard, who has suffered multiple anterior cruciate ligament injuries is expected to make his USF debut Wednesday against Louisville.

“You wish you had more production from your bench, (but) it’s what we have, and we have to play with what we have,” Gary said. “Hopefully it’ll help as these injured guys come back, and we’ll be able to get more production off the bench because you’re in the Big East, (and) you’ve got to have some depth to not get physically worn out.”

Freshman Amu Saaka came off the bench against Pittsburgh for 23 minutes but scored just two points, while reserves Melvyn Richardson and Eddie Lovett combined for 14 minutes of play while failing to score a point or get a rebound.

“That’s something really important that we’ve got to fix,” said Verdejo, who finished with 12 points Sunday. “We’ve got to play as a team; everybody has to stick together. All the people that come from the bench – they have to give us great energy (and not) let the game go down.”