Bulls lose eighth straight, fall to last place in Big East

On Saturday, USF went up by as many as 16 points and held St. John’s best player – junior forward Anthony Mason Jr. – to just two points before he left the game with an injury. It didn’t matter.

USF (10-12, 1-8) lost its eighth straight game 72-58 to the Red Storm (8-12, 2-7) and fell to last place in the Big East Conference – almost completely eliminating USF from Big East Tournament contention.

“We’re a struggling basketball team, and we’re having a hard time finding the basket,” Bulls coach Stan Heath said.

Early in the first half, the Bulls were getting good production out of junior forward Mobalaji “B.J.” Ajayi.

Making his second career start, Ajayi set a new career-high in points just seven minutes into the game. He scored 10 points in that span, and finished the game with 12 points and a career-high nine rebounds.

“B.J. played really well for us tonight,” senior center Kentrell Gransberry said. “We knew all along that he could come in and play his role, play good defense and rebound.”

With Ajayi taking some of the scoring burden off of Gransberry and freshman guard Dominique Jones, USF was able to jump out to an early 25-9 lead.

Despite the big lead, USF was unable to hold on for its second Big East win. The Red Storm ended the first half on a 17-1 run and took a 26-26 tie into the halftime break.

“I think the game was pretty much decided at the end of both halves,” Heath said. “They went into halftime on a 17-1 run, and I thought our guys would regroup and get things back on track.”

However, things did not get on track for the Bulls. The Red Storm lost Anthony Mason Jr. – who was averaging 16.6 points per game in Big East games – to a bruised shin just before halftime.

Despite losing their best player, the Red Storm’s deep bench allowed them to pull away in the second half.

Sophomore forward Larry Wright had 17 points for St. John’s in 25 minutes off the bench. Freshman guard Malik Boothe added 11 points in 31 minutes of reserve action.

“When Anthony Mason went down, I told our guys that somebody had to step up,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “I think that … Larry Wright had a big game, and Malik Boothe played well.”

USF – who had several players inactive due to injury – received another poor performance out of its bench. The Bulls’ reserves were out-scored 32-0 by St. John’s.

“Our depth played a big factor in the game tonight,” Heath said. “We’ve got to find an answer to rest some of our guys. We looked like a very tired basketball team at the end of both of those halves.”

For the Bulls, the chances of reaching the Big East Tournament have all but disappeared. Sitting in last place, the Bulls need to maintain focus.

“There’s still games to be played,” Heath said. “We just need to lace ’em up, regroup, and get our confidence back.”

“I feel like every game is a must-win,” Jones said. “A lot of our losses have been frustrating, but you never want to take a negative away from the game.”