With just over 11 minutes remaining in the game, senior guard Corey Allen Jr. hit back-to-back three-point shots to cut the lead to four, but USF couldn’t sustain the run, giving up eight consecutive points to SMU on the way to a 63-52 conference loss in front of a home crowd of 3,589.
The game went back and forth for most of the first half Wednesday night — USF starting on a 9-2 run — but with a late run and a last-second three, SMU (17-4, 8-1) took a 32-25 lead into the locker room at halftime.
USF (7-14, 1-6) played without its leading rebounder, sophomore forward Chris Perry, who USF announced is on an indefinite leave from the team after missing Sunday’s game at UConn.
Perry, who averages 7.1 rebounds and 10.8 points, was taken to a Connecticut hospital Saturday with chest pains following an evening practice.
Redshirt freshman Bo Zeigler replaced the 6-foot-8 forward, shooting 60 percent from the floor, pulling down six rebounds and scoring six points before foul trouble limited his minutes.
“We would’ve liked Bo to be out there a little longer … but you can’t fault the effort,” coach Orlando Antigua said. “We need that fire out of him, it’s big for us.”
Turnovers played a key role in the game, as USF let opportunities slip out of their grasp.
After two key blocks by Jaleel Cousins, junior guard Nehemias Morillo pushed the ball up the court with the Bulls down by just four points, only to turn it over at the other end.
Hidden beneath the mistakes lied significant improvements across the court.
“Cousins had a coming out party tonight,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “I don’t think Chris (Perry) could’ve played much better.”
Cousins finished the game with 10 rebounds and two blocks in just 13 minutes of play.
“He got us some huge rebounds, especially against a big lineup like SMU,” Antigua said. “He stuck his nose in there and got some big-time offensive rebounds for us, too. I just wish he could’ve finished a little bit better from the free-throw line.”
USF also saw a slight emergence of three-point success, tying a team-high with seven threes.
Allen Jr. and Morillo accounted for all seven of those 3-pointers, each scoring 18 points.
“Corey is getting better,” Antigua said. “He’s worked at his craft and he’s starting to know what the players are looking for when he’s playing point, but when he’s at the two (position), he has to have a different mentality. He’s growing and he’s matured in that regard.”
Unlike its first meeting with the Mustangs, USF was able to hang in the contest until late — only being down seven with 4:49 left in the game.
“We were competing, we were men,” Antigua said. “We didn’t let errors compound or disrupt our focus. I kept reminding them: ‘Look, we’re going to make mistakes, just don’t let those mistakes compound and lead to three and four mistakes.
“’If you want to sulk and you want to pout, wait till there’s a timeout and you get in the huddle. Then, you can sulk, but until then, get your tail back on defense.’”