Conference games always seem to have a competitive flare to them, no matter how unequal the matchup may appear on paper.
That rang true Tuesday night when USF (5-4, 1-2) traveled to Memphis and took the Tigers (6-4, 2-1) down to the wire.
It was a game of runs, but unfortunately for the Bulls they ended up falling to Memphis by a score of 58-57 in a back-and-forth contest.
Freshman guard Caleb Murphy led the way scoring 20 points going 9-of-18 from the field along with shooting 1-of-2 from the free throw and three point lines. The 6-foot-4-inch guard showed up best in the second half after USF went into the break down by two points.
“Caleb [Murphy] in the second half was more aggressive in what we wanted to do,” head coach Brian Gregory said in his postgame press conference.
The young guard, who is Gregory’s highest rated recruit at USF, dropped 16 of his 20 points in the second period.
In addition to Murphy, senior Justin Brown also contributed with 11 points of his own on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 from the three point line.
The Bulls’ three point performance overall was impressive as they shot 53.8% to the Tigers’ 26.7%.
However, this impressive stat line and high efficiency shooting could not bail them out of having to find a way to compete under the pressure that the Tigers applied.
USF’s inability to finish close games and handle high pressure situations affected it again that night.
Gregory stressed the importance of playing smart down the stretch in high pressured situations.
“An area that we need to dramatically improve in is our ability to handle pressure, be strong with the ball, and make good decisions,” Gregory said.
USF was up by 12 points with 9:59 left to play and in that time recorded an equal amount of turnovers and shot attempt — nine.
“We made some bad decisions and made a couple bad shots,” Gregory said.
USF ended the night with 17 total turnovers and just seven assists.
Gregory also praised Memphis’ trap game which forced USF out of its comfort zone toward the final minute.
“Because of their trap we didn’t have the spacing for a potential kick out…they blew it up with the hard trap on David [Collins],” Gregory said.
USF has played three conference games thus far and each of them have come down to the very end.
To avoid being in these situations game in and game out, the Bulls must improve in many facets of the game.
Gregory preached practice as a way to help them stay poised in tough spots.
“We have to do some stuff in terms of keeping our poise in those situations and being able to make better decisions,” Gregory said.
The next game on the schedule for USF is against the rival UCF Knights as they look to end their two-game losing streak in the new year on Jan. 2.