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Banks’ return not enough for Bulls against No. 14 Cincy

Winger Payton Banks scored a team high 22 points in his return against No. 14 Cincinnati on Saturday night. THE ORACLE/MIKI SHINE

USF men’s basketball lost to No. 14 Cincinnati (15-2, 4-0) 78-55 when it hosted the Bearcats at the Sun Dome on Saturday night for an AAC matchup — despite an added boost with graduate transfer Payton Banks returning to the lineup.

Banks, who is the Bulls’ leading scorer, was called in to play after a three-game hiatus due to what Banks described as, “Being sick for a while and a combination of things just hitting me all at once.”

In his absence, no Bull produced a scoring performance above 16 points. In his return, Banks shot 80 percent from the three-point range and was USF’s leading scorer for the night with 22 points.

“He shot the ball well,” coach Brian Gregory said. “We got him some good looks. He moved without the ball. He obviously gave us a big boost.”

While Banks’ presence was prevalent on offense, Gregory wasn’t completely satisfied with his 6-foot-6 winger as he failed to bring down a single rebound.

“I want more from him,” Gregory said. “He can’t play 30 minutes and not get a rebound. I want perfection from him. I want five to six rebounds. I want no bad shots. I know you’re not going to get that, but that’s why you coach … We’ll figure out a way to get there.”

Guards Stephan Jiggetts and Terrence Samuel, the Bulls’ other two graduate transfers, complemented Banks’ scoring with nine and seven points, respectively. 

“The challenge for those three guys in particular is they came here to do more,” Gregory said. “That’s the challenge we need to present to them every day.”

The Bulls (7-11, 0-5) fell victim to a full court pressure by the Bearcats for the entirety of the game. They held the Bearcats close in the first half, entering the locker room trailing only 35-33. At the time, the Bulls were shooting 57 percent compared to the Bearcat’s 35.

Banks described coach Gregory’s halftime message after the game.

“‘You guys are playing good,’” Banks said. “‘A lot of mistakes, but you’re playing hard to cover them up. Play hard, limit those mistakes, and we’re gonna be in pretty good shape to win the game.’”

As the game went on, the Bulls faltered, shooting only 25 percent in the second half.

“I thought that Cincinnati’s defensive pressure, not necessarily forcing turnovers, just overall defensive pressure, forcing some tough shots, some contested shots in the second half was probably the difference in the game.” Gregory said. “And the fact that you get minus-15 at the free throw line, it just puts you in a tough spot.”

When asked about the Bearcat’s persistent 94-foot pressure, Gregory said, “They kind of wear you down a bit.”

The Bulls continue their conference schedule on Wednesday when they play at East Carolina. The Bulls lost to the Pirates earlier this season by two points without Banks and his offensive clout in the lineup.

“It’s my job to knock down shots and help my team win,” Banks said. “That’s what we all tried to do today, but we’ve gotta get back on it, go on the road and try to get a win.”