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Another heartbreaking loss

Seton Hall 79, USF 75

On Monday, Stan Heath – coach of the University of South Florida men’s basketball team – called the Bulls “a young team trying to write the history of the program.”

On Tuesday, the Bulls (11-17, 2-13) lost their third straight game – a 79-75 loss to the Seton Hall Pirates (17-11, 7-8). Heath feels the team is just going through the growing pains of a young program.

“I think a lot of teams that are young and figuring these things out kind of go through these things,” Heath said. “You hope you don’t have to, but when it comes down to it, I think our guys are understanding that there are key plays that are just so valuable. We’ve just got to make them.”

The Bulls had opportunities to win the game – especially in the game’s final seconds. Freshman guard Dominique Jones took two free throws with 1:20 remaining in the game, and sophomore guard Chris Howard attempted two free throws with 34.7 seconds left.

Both players made just one of their attempts, leaving the Bulls trailing 75-73 late in the game.

Senior center Kentrell Gransberry also attempted two free throws – missing both – with 15.2 seconds remaining.

“We had chances to either tie the game up or take the lead, but it seemed like those key free throws eluded us,” Heath said. “Most of the early part of the second half, we were knocking them down, but the ones we really needed just didn’t go down for us.”

Unlike in it’s prior two losses – which were consecutive one-point losses to No. 15 Connecticut and the Cincinnati Bearcats – the Bulls held the lead just once against Seton Hall. USF led 2-0 less than 15 seconds into the game, but after passing the Bulls, the Pirates never looked back.

Despite their playing from behind for nearly the entire game, Heath liked his team’s effort.

“Obviously, I love to be ahead. I like to be ahead by 10, 15. Obviously, I like to be in that position,” Heath said. “But, even when we were down by 10, I didn’t see us panicking. I didn’t see us putting our heads down. We just kept plugging away until the last seconds.”

Even in defeat, there were bright spots for the Bulls.

Jones scored a career-high 31 points and etched his name in the USF record books.

In the second half, Jones broke former Bull B. B. Waldon’s single-season freshman-scoring record. Waldon set the previous record during the 1998-1999 season.

“All of that individual stuff means a lot to me, but I could always trade that stuff in for a win,” Jones said.

“We held Dominique Jones to seven at our place and we knew that that wasn’t going to happen twice,” Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. “He was spectacular. He was unstoppable.”

Another Bull who set a personal-best was junior guard Jesus Verdejo. He scored 11 points and set a new career high with seven assists.

Two Pirates had big halves, helping Seton Hall maintain an advantage throughout the game.

Forward Brian Laing and guard Jamar Nutter – both seniors – took control of the game for Seton Hall.

Laing scored 20 points in the first half en route to a team-high 24. Nutter – who scored two points in the first half – scored 18 points in the second period.

“I thought both Laing and Nutter made some tough, tough shots,” Heath said.

With the loss, the Bulls were eliminated from earning a spot in the Big East Tournament. Heath, however, sees chances for USF to add to its young history over the season’s final three games.

“We’re playing for USF. We’re playing for pride,” Heath said. “We’re playing for history, we’re still writing history. We’re still trying to win games on the road. We’re still trying to win more than three games in conference. We’re still playing for a lot of things that haven’t been done before.”