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USF’s McMurray ready for the challenge in AAC tournament

Freshman guard Jahmal McMurray leads the team with 15.3, 2.5 assists and 35.1 minutes points per game after entering the season as a backup. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

USF freshman guard Jahmal McMurray’s first season playing college basketball was full of unexpected turns — from making the AAC All-Rookie team to losing 24 regular season games — and he’ll hope for one more unlikely outcome today in Orlando when the AAC Tournament tips off. 

Led by McMurray, the Bulls (7-24, 4-14) will begin the tournament against ECU at the Amway Center at 3:30 p.m. USF defeated the Pirates in their first contest, but ECU (12-19, 4-14) held USF to 39 points in a win at the Sun Dome on March 2. 

“For a freshman, he’s been phenomenal,” USF coach Orlando Antigua said. “He’s continued to grow and continued to develop and he still has tons of room to grow, so we’re going to keep pushing him and stretching him. We just need him to come and be Jahmal. He doesn’t have to be Superman, he doesn’t have to be King Kong, he just has to be Jahmal.”

The 6-foot, 175-pound freshman guard leads the Bulls in points (15.3 per game) and assists (2.5), and no one else comes close to his 35.1 minutes per game. McMurray has been a lone bright spot for an otherwise dismal season, and he said he knows his play can dictate much of how the Bulls perform. 

“I haven’t even been worried about (the loss to ECU),” McMurray said. “The other night just wasn’t my night. On nights like that, I need to figure out how to get other people going, because when I’m not going, it seems like the team’s not going.”

McMurray scored five points on 2-of-8 shooting in that loss against the Pirates, but scored 21 on 7-of-14 shooting earlier in the season when USF defeated ECU. 

Unlike the Bulls, ECU spreads out its scoring, getting over 10 points per game from four different players. 

The Pirates are particularly efficient at 3-point attempts, shooting 34.6 percent as a team with two starters making more than 38 percent of attempts. 

Thursday’s winner will play first-seeded Temple, as well as two more games if they can keep winning.

With the regular season now behind them, both teams will be looking to add some meaning to their losing seasons by making an unlikely run. 

“It would mean a lifetime to me,” McMurray said. “I love the game of basketball, and I would love to keep this season alive and keep competing and show people what we can really do when we put our minds to it.”