Tonight’s final home game of the season offers USF a chance to correct the mistakes it made in its last meeting against Pittsburgh.
In the Panthers’ 67-55 home win over USF on Feb. 16, the Bulls gave the conference’s top team far too many chances to score, committing 14 turnovers and allowing 18 offensive rebounds.
USF gave up the same number of turnovers in its first road win of the season Saturday at DePaul, but can’t afford to do the same against elite teams in the nation’s toughest conference.
These extra opportunities made the difference during the teams’ first meeting, with the Bulls struggling to score against Pittsburgh, which ranks first in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.
USF (9-20, 3-13) had three chances to tie the game late, but the first two possessions ended abruptly with offensive fouls and the third was a missed fastbreak layup, leading to a three-point play for the Panthers (25-4, 13-3) on the other end.
That series sums up the Bulls’ entire season. Had they converted the first two possessions and made the open layup, they would have been up by four on the road against the best team in their league. Instead, they found themselves down by five and watched the Panthers run away with the game.
Shortcomings aside, USF has a few bright spots to consider. Augustus Gilchrist made the Big East Weekly Honor Roll with his career scoring game against DePaul. His 32 points helped the Bulls pick up a much-needed first Big East road win against the Blue Demons.
The Panthers (25-4, 13-3) are on the other side of the spectrum. After squeaking out a win against the Bulls, Pittsburgh dropped two of its next three games with heartbreaking last-second losses to St. John’s and Louisville.
However, the Panthers remain atop the Big East by one-half game over Notre Dame. A loss to USF would give the Fighting Irish the edge in the standings by virtue of their win over Pittsburgh earlier this year.
The Bulls will have to deal with Pittsburgh’s leading scorer, Ashton Gibbs, who did not play in the first meeting. However, the Panthers were 3-0 without him in the lineup and are 1-2 since his return.
Though they were a much different team then, the Bulls did beat Pittsburgh for the first time last year at the Sun Dome, 70-61. USF will honor two players on Senior Night: forward Jarrid Famous and forward Alberto Damour.
Famous has played in 59 games for the Bulls in his two-year career and has an average of 9.8 points per game.
Tip-off is at 9 p.m., and the game will air on ESPNU.