In the second round of the Big East tournament, USF couldn’t reproduce the magic of its first-round win, as the Bulls tied for their worst loss in coach Stan Heath’s four-year tenure.
Cincinnati (25-7) held the lead for the entire game as they knocked out the Bulls 87-61 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Anthony Crater, whose steal and two layups allowed USF to upset Villanova on Tuesday night, injured his right shoulder just before halftime and could not return to the game.
Without their primary ball handler, the Bulls struggled to find a rhythm offensively against the conference’s best defensive team. USF (10-23) also missed Crater as a distributor, recording only 10 team assists, just three more than Crater had against Villanova.
Heath tested Mike Burwell and LaVonte Dority at point guard in the second half before leaving the responsibility with Shedrick Haynes to lead the Bulls backcourt.
Haynes filled Crater’s shoes efficiently, finishing without a turnover in 10 minutes. But the Bulls, who rank last in the conference offensively, hit only seven field goals in the first half and shot 36 percent for the game.
Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates scored a career-high 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting – each one looking easier than the last. Guard Dion Dixon added 21 points for the Bearcats, who slowly built an insurmountable lead after starting the game on an 8-0 run.
USF cut the lead to four with four minutes to play in the first half, but never climbed back into contention. Forward Augustus Gilchrist did his best to lead the team, scoring a team-high 16 points.
However, a Bulls frontcourt that usually overpowers opponents couldn’t contain Gates and the Bearcats. Cincinnati, which advances to play Notre Dame, shot 57 percent from the field and went 26 of 33 from the free-throw line.
Offensively, USF pounded the ball inside and worked to involve Shaun Noriega, who hit four 3-pointers. Jarrid Famous scored 10 points in his final game as a Bull, and Hugh Robertson added eight points and four steals.
The Bulls shot 15 fewer free throws than the Bearcats. An irate Heath drew a technical foul for showing his frustration after referees didn’t blow the whistle for an apparent foul. The two resulting free throws put Cincinnati up by 19 with 11 minutes remaining.
Though they demonstrated a high level of effort, the Bulls looked slower after pulling off their biggest win of the season in a down-to-the-wire game the previous night.
The Bearcats, on the other hand, had won four of their last five and enjoyed a first-round bye.
USF concluded its season winning just two of its last 11 games, but picked up the first-ever win by a 15th-seeded team in the Big East tournament.