Making its road debut, the men’s basketball team seemed to be a repeat of the regular season opener.
USF (0-2) failed to find any consistent offensive production, especially in the second half, and fell 76-69 to Buffalo (2-1) in the battle of the Bulls.
“We’re turning the ball over, we’re not in sync and we’re not on the same page,” coach Stan Heath said. “The biggest thing I’m disappointed with is we didn’t bring our defense with us, we left it in Tampa.”
Perimeter defense has emerged as a soft spot in the young season, allowing eight three-pointers.
“We allowed them too many looks at the basket. (They’re) a team that has shot 22 percent from threes, and we allow them to go 38 percent that set the tone from there,” Heath said.
Buffalo seized the momentum with a 15-3 run late in the first half, erasing a four-point disadvantage that never allowed USF to recapture the lead.
Kentrell Gransberry made his season debut, after sitting out with a one-game suspension, logging a team-high 37 minutes, scoring nine points along with a game-high 10 rebounds.
He was never able to get his offense going, often facing double teams, and finished 3-for-14 from the field and struggled from the free throw line, going 3-for-7.
“We expect him to get a lot of double teams throughout the year … we worked on that in practice but unfortunately we didn’t see the results,” Heath said. “We had a few opportunities, but we had more miscues than positive plays.”
Chris Howard led the Bulls with nine assists, but he also struggled shooting the ball and finished with seven points.
The Bulls’ sloppy play – 31 turnovers – enabled Buffalo numerous easy baskets on fast breaks.
“I’m looking at two of my better players, Chris and Kentrell, and they’ve got 10 turnovers between the two of them and that can’t happen,” Heath said. “I need those two guys to be leaders and step up.”
Buffalo, the only other team in Division I nicknamed the Bulls, defeated a Big East opponent at home for the second time in three years, previously defeating Rutgers two seasons ago. Last season, Pittsburgh defeated Buffalo 73-70.
Jesus Verdejo led USF with 18 points and freshman Dominique Jones added 17.
USF fell behind early and didn’t get its first lead until 8:35 remained in the first half. Although the team was able to chip away at the lead throughout the game, USF never made the defensive stop necessary to regain the led.
“I thought we battled. At a lot of times we cut it to one or two and even tied it at the 5 minute mark, and that’s the time when you need that defensive stop,” Heath said. “I thought we were hurried and didn’t get the intensity needed at the defensive end and so I’m really disappointed.”
The biggest area of improvement Heath hopes for as the season continues is production from his bench.
USF’s reserves scored only 10 points, with eight coming from Solomon Bozeman. Freshman Orane Chin, who started the opener, played sparingly.
“I think one of the biggest things we’ve got to try do is develop more strength off our bench,” Heath said. “It just seems like we’re getting a little bit fatigued, and that’s when our breakdowns occur.”
USF doesn’t return to the Sun Dome until Nov. 24 against East Carolina. The team returns to action Friday against Rhode Island, the first of three games in as many days.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve got to fix,” Heath said. “We don’t have a lot of practice time to get there, so we have a short time to clean some things up and become a better team.”