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Men’s basketball loses heartbreaker against Tulane

Senior wing Justin Brown dropped 16 points and pulled in five rebounds in USF’s loss to Tulane on Sunday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

This year’s Valentine’s Day was one to forget for the USF men’s basketball team (7-7, 3-5 AAC), as they fell to Tulane (9-8, 4-8 AAC) by a score of 62-59 at the Yuengling Center on Sunday.

The Bulls were hoping to get their stunted season back on track after a tough loss to No. 5 Houston on Wednesday, which came after a 32-day hiatus.

When looking for reasons why that didn’t happen, it’s hard to look past the season-high 18 turnovers.

“That’s 18 possessions that you have the ball that you don’t even get a shot up,” coach Brian Gregory noted when asked about the turnover woes. “When you lose a one-possession game, it really highlights it even more.”

In a game where the Bulls won the rebounding battle by 16 and neither team shot the ball well, the 24 points scored off USF’s turnovers proved the difference. 

The Green Wave’s Jaylen Forbes led all scorers with 25 points, at times appearing like the only player Tulane’s coach, Ron Hunter, could count on for buckets.

Tulane led for the entirety of the first half, as its full-court press hounded the Bulls, even leading to a 10-second violation on freshman guard Caleb Murphy. The high-octane freshman never settled into the game, finishing with just two points on 0-of-5 shooting.

“No question about it,” said Gregory when asked if the layoff affected Murphy’s progression. “It’s really difficult on a freshman point guard, both growing defensively and growing offensively … It’s definitely challenging, I feel for him. [He’s] got to keep at it, stay positive.”

Outside of senior swingman Justin Brown’s team-high 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, the rest of the team struggled to get into a rhythm against Tulane’s 2-3 zone defense. 

USF never led in the first half, and with three minutes remaining before halftime, the Bulls found themselves down seven, the largest deficit of the game. They would eventually go into the break down 27-23.

After the intermission, it seemed as if a switch had been flipped. USF scored nine straight points after the restart and took its first lead of the contest. Just as the momentum had been built, the turnover bug bit again on the Bulls’ next three possessions.

“That was a critical point in the game, we were in a good flow offensively and defensively,” Gregory said. “I think [Tulane] might have scored on all three possessions [after the turnovers].”

Later in the second half, the Bulls were given another chance to pull ahead for good when over six minutes passed between Tulane field goals. USF once again took a three-point advantage, but then went on its own scoring drought of four minutes. Before long, Tulane rattled off a 9-0 run of their own to take the lead for good.

The game remained in the balance, but every 50-50 ball and crucial sequence seemed to go the Green Wave’s way. 

“We’re a step slow in a lot of stuff right now,” Gregory said. “We can’t have five or six of those situations come back to hurt us and I think that was the case tonight.” 

After a Brown 3-pointer with just 30 seconds left on the clock made the score 56-54, the Bulls intentionally fouled to force free throws. Tulane had been struggling from the line,  uncharacteristic of the conference-high 77% team clip for the season.

Tulane’s Gabe Watson missed 1-of-2 from the line, giving USF a chance to tie. Senior guard David Collins attempted a three on the ensuing possession, but his effort was too strong and the shot clanged off the rim, effectively sealing the Bulls’ fate.

Although there are still six games left to play, pending any rescheduled matchups, the Bulls must turn their fortunes around sooner rather than later. 

Gregory recognized the daunting task of trying to finish the regular season on a high note, considering the amount of away games left on the schedule.

“It’s a big challenge,” he said. “We have one more home game, that’s it … five out of the last six are on the road. We have our work cut out for us. We’ll learn a lot about the fight and character of everybody within the program, because it’s not easy.”

The Bulls have a short turnaround with a trip across the state to battle UCF in the War on I-4 Wednesday night.

The Bulls and Knights will tip off Wednesday at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited