Coming off their worst loss this season, the Bulls let a third Big East win slip through their fingertips Wednesday night against the Golden Eagles.
After leading by 16 points with 14:21 left in the second half, USF (8-17, 2-10) failed to take care of the ball and defend the 3-point line on its way to a close and disappointing 59-58 loss to conference opponent Marquette.
“They laid a trap for us, and we fell into it,” coach Stan Heath said. “They wanted to speed us up and get us out of control and we helped them. Too many turnovers, some empty possessions – we have to finish.”
Six missed free throws by the Golden Eagles (15-9, 6-5) gave USF four chances in the final 52 seconds to erase a three-point deficit. Two of these were squandered with costly turnovers and the other two resulted in a missed 3-pointer by junior forward Augustus Gilchrist and two made free throws by sophomore forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick led all scorers with 16 points and was sent to the foul line with just one second to play and the Bulls trailing by three. He made the first and attempted to miss the second for a tip, but the shot bounced off the backboard and in, leaving the Bulls one point short.
“I’ve never been put in that situation before. I tried to shoot it off the right side, and it ended up banking right in,” Fitzpatrick said.
USF finished with 19 turnovers, a problem that has haunted the Bulls all season. Many of them were caused when USF rushed to get the ball past halfcourt, with errant passes, players slipping and simply being unable to catch the ball.
“There were a lot of fundamental things that we have been better at that we didn’t do a good job of today,” Heath said. “The ball didn’t bounce our way.”
The Bulls caught numerous bad breaks in the second half. On several occasions Heath was all but jumping up and down on the sidelines screaming for a timeout, only to go unnoticed by the referees. When they did respond quickly to Heath’s request for time, it came at the worst moment. Just after the whistle, Anthony Crater made a 3-pointer that would have tied the game.
Marquette went 8 of 13 from the 3-point line and only turned the ball over eight times. Forward Jae Crowder led the Golden Eagles’ comeback with 14 points, including three second-half 3-pointers, one of which gave Marquette a four-point lead with 88 seconds remaining, its largest of the second half.
USF held the Big East’s highest-scoring team points below its season average and limited its leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom to just seven points.
Yet, a strong effort on both ends was not enough.
The Bulls will look to pick up the pieces before heading into the toughest stretch in their schedule, going up against three ranked opponents in a row. USF hosts No. 7 Notre Dame at the Sun Dome on Saturday at noon.