The USF men’s basketball team gave No. 1 seed Wichita State everything it could handle in Friday’s AAC tournament quarterfinals, but ultimately fell to the Shockers 68-67 in Fort Worth, Texas.
At two points in the game, once in the first half and once in the second half, the Bulls held a 12-point advantage, but couldn’t hold on to those leads as the game went on.
With 2:33 left to play, junior center Michael Durr sank a jump shot to give USF a one-point lead late in the game. The score stood still until there were just nine seconds remaining, and Wichita State’s sophomore guard Tyson Etienne, who had a game-high 20 points, drove to the bucket and drew a foul. Etienne swished both of his free throws to put the Shockers on top.
On the ensuing possession, senior guard David Collins took the ball the length of the court and went up for a layup, but was thwarted by junior forward Morris Udeze of the Shockers who drew a charging foul.
After a missed free throw from Wichita State, the Bulls had one more chance for a game-winning shot, but freshman guard Caleb Murphy’s half-court heave did not fall, and the upset bid was over.
“Obviously [I’m] disappointed how it ended, but [I’m] 100% not disappointed with the effort and fight that our guys showed today, from start to finish,” coach Brian Gregory said in a press conference after the game.
“[I’m] proud of them, it’s been tough with a lot of adversity and different things that you have to face during the year, and these guys kept fighting to the bitter end.”
Despite the loss, Gregory said he thinks the Bulls played at their highest level in the two tournament games they played Thursday and Friday.
“[We] did a lot of good things today. I think over the last two days we’ve played our best basketball,” Gregory said. “Although shorthanded a little bit, guys really raised their game and did a lot of good things. Give credit to Wichita State … [They’re] a very good team, and we battled them from start to finish.”
The Bulls were without redshirt junior forward Alexis Yetna, who’s dealing with an ankle injury. Yetna is an important piece for USF, as he’s among the conference’s best rebounders averaging 7.3 per game and adds to that with 9.5 points per game.
With Yetna not playing, multiple players stepped up to the challenge, perhaps most notably Durr who had his second double-double of the tournament.
“I think early he forced a couple things, and he showed a really good maturity in terms of understanding, he was not really going to be able to score on post ups today because they were trapping the post,” Gregory said of Durr. “He became a little bit more of a facilitator and obviously because of their attention, [he] was able to get to the offensive glass as well. As the game loosened up a little more, then he was able to take advantage and have a couple big post baskets for us.
“I think he’s proven himself as one of the best big guys in our league, in terms of the development that he’s had over this last 12 months … It was good to see that some of the frustration early because of the trapping didn’t throw him off his game. He was able to still really impact the game in a positive way.”
Overall, it was a well-rounded team effort for the Bulls, as seven players scored over five points and three were in double digits.
As for the three players who participated in Senior Night on March 2 — Yetna, Collins and senior wing Justin Brown — it has yet to be decided whether or not they will run it back with the Bulls next season, Gregory said.
The NCAA announced Oct. 14 this season would not count toward a year of eligibility for winter sport student-athletes, so the option for them to return exists if they elect to not try and make it professionally at this point in their careers.
“We decided and I talked to them, we were going to wait until the end of the season to sit down [and decide]. They got, just like everybody else in the country … a lot of options. It’s good to have options,” Gregory said. “The most important thing is what’s best for each of those individuals.
“With the season coming to an abrupt end like today, you move on to the next phase, that’s the spring and those decisions have to be made.”