Bulls fall short of upset victory

USF 53, No. 6 Georgetown 63

The University of South Florida men’s basketball team had an early double-digit lead against the Big East Conference-leading Georgetown Hoyas.

However, lack of reserve help and dominant frontcourt play from the Hoyas proved too much for the Bulls. The 63-53 loss to No. 6 Georgetown was the Bulls ninth straight – all in Big East play.

“I was proud of our effort. Those guys played their hearts out,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “We were on the road and obviously we’re going through a tough stretch. To come into this building against the No.6-ranked team in the country and compete for 40 minutes, I think we did a good job.”

USF (10-13, 1-9) got off to a quick start for the second straight game. The Bulls offense was near perfect for the first seven minutes of the game. They shot 7-of-9 from the field to take an early 16-6 lead over the Hoyas (19-2, 9-1).

The Bulls were able to take the advantage by holding Georgetown to 2-of-12 shooting in the first seven minutes of the game.

Despite the quick start, USF squandered an early, double-digit lead for the second consecutive game. The Bulls led 22-13 with eight minutes remaining in the first half. In the final minutes of the half, The Hoyas outscored USF 14-2 to take a 27-24 lead into the break.

“When we went into the break, we talked about (the scoring drought),” Heath said. “I think it’s a little bit of a maturity thing, but it’s also a mental toughness thing. When I say it’s a maturity issue, it’s the fact that we have a great rhythm going for about 12 minutes. All of a sudden, you get that lead, and you get that cushion, and you forget what got you there.”

The Bulls and Hoyas remained relatively even for the first nine minutes of the second half. However, the Hoyas – led by a frontcourt that scored 43 of the team’s 63 points – were able to pull away in the second half.

As before, the Bulls bench did little to help the team’s starters. A total of four reserves combined to play 34 minutes. However, they combined for a total of two points.

USF had three starters play at least 37 minutes, including junior guard Jesus Verdejo. A lower-back injury limited Verdejo to just three minutes over the last two games, but he played 39 against the Hoyas.

“I’m asking a lot of the (starters),” Heath said. “I don’t like to play that way. I’d love to get an eight- or nine-man rotation going and be a team like Georgetown that can keep fresh bodies out there. But, we’re not there. We don’t have that ability on our team right now.”

One intriguing individual matchup was USF senior center Kentrell Gransberry – who leads the Big East in rebounds per game (10.8) – against Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, who is third in the conference in blocks per game (1.95).

Both players struggled on the offensive end early, but each finished the game with 13 points.

On defense, both players played above their season averages. Gransberry swatted away a career-high five shots. Not to be outdone, Hibbert led all players with six blocks.

“(Gransberry) laid it out there,” Heath said. “He had some great blocks inside, just bodying up on guys in there.”

Even though the Bulls held Hibbert in check on the offensive end, sophomore forward DaJuan Summers could not be contained.

Summers scored the Hoyas’ first 11 points and finished with a game-high 24.

“I thought DaJuan Summers was a thorn in our side all night,” Heath said. “Obviously, he kind of kept things going for them offensively.”

Even though the loss dropped USF’s chances of making the Big East Tournament to almost zero, Heath was satisfied with his team’s effort.

“I’m excited in the fact that the guys stepped up in an environment like this, against a great team,” Heath said. “I just want to continue to build upon this, and I think good things can happen.”