NCAA hopes slipping after another loss

USF’s climb toward an NCAA tournament bid just got steeper.

After moving to .500 in the Big East last week, the Bulls have dropped two straight – the latest a 63-52 loss Saturday night on the road against Marquette that could prove crucial come March.

“Tough game,” said USF coach Stan Heath. “We really felt this was a game that if we could sneak out of there with one, it would do wonders for us. It didn’t, so we just have to regroup and not let a loss like this beat us up.”

The loss pushed the Bulls to 10th in the Big East and two games behind Marquette (16-8, 7-5), a team they could’ve jumped with a win.

Sophomore forward Augustus Gilchrist, in his first action since suffering a high ankle sprain Dec. 2, scored seven points on 3-of-6 shooting in 23 minutes.

“It was good,” Gilchrist said of his return. “I just wish it was under different circumstances.”

The Bulls (15-9, 5-7) struggled from 3-point range, hitting just 4-of-20 – 0-for-11 in the second half. Junior guard Dominique Jones, who entered as the Big East’s third-leading scorer at 21.9 points per game, scored 16 points, shooting 6-of-21 from the floor and 1-of-7 from 3-point range.

“It’s no secret we’re not a great 3-point shooting team,” Heath said. “I thought we got caught up in trying to prove that we were. We fell into the trap. We drank the poison and we had to pay for it. We missed shot after shot and didn’t have the patience to go inside.”

After taking a 16-11 lead at the 13:20 mark, the Bulls didn’t score again until Jones hit a jumper at the 7:06 mark in the first half. Marquette, which took a 31-27 lead into halftime, went on an 18-8 run to open the second half. The Bulls shot 29.7 percent in the second half.

“Our offense wasn’t where it needed to be,” Heath said. “We forced a lot of things. We weren’t patient.”

USF hosts Cincinnati, which is one game ahead in the conference standings, on Tuesday at 7 p.m.