For a while it seemed as if USF would create a bit of its own March Madness, but West Virginia had other plans.
Despite a close first-half battle, the Mountaineers used a second-half run to secure a 64-50 victory over the Bulls on Sunday at the Sun Dome in front of a crowd of 5,082.
“Nothing really changed (in the second half), but everyone in our locker room understands that we struggle with the first four minutes of the second half,” said USF junior Chris Howard. “We just need to have the ability to continue playing hard for the rest of the game.”
WVU senior guard Alex Ruoff scored eight points during a 10-1 run to begin the second half. However, the Bulls climbed back and cut the lead to 42-35 with 13:13 remaining. USF coach Stan Heath was charged with a technical foul at the 12:00 mark, and the Mountaineers extended their lead to 15 shortly after to put the game away.
“I just felt there was a huge disparity,” Heath said of the technical foul. “There was a sequence where we had the ball in close, and I can’t put one thing to the other, but (West Virginia) went on that 10-1 run and we had some stuff near the basket that didn’t get called. I guess I just got a little frustrated.”
Despite leading for the majority of the first half and shooting 42 percent from the field, the Bulls trailed 30-27 at halftime. USF played without senior guard Jesus Verdejo, who is injured with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Heath said the team is struggling because of the missing players.
“You’re looking at potentially three starters that aren’t playing for us right now,” Heath said. “You try and challenge during games, but it makes such a difference how fresh these guys are at the end of the game.”
Sophomore guard Dominique Jones finished with a game-high 18 points and six rebounds and received a standing ovation from the home crowd after breaking the 1,000 career-point mark in a loss to Seton Hall on Wednesday.
The Bulls, who sit at 14th in the Big East, will honor three seniors Tuesday night when Cincinnati comes to the Sun Dome. Two of them, Verdejo and center B.J. Ajayi, are out with injury.
Ajayi is out for the season with an ACL tear in his knee.