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Bulls suffer from foul trouble in loss to Cincinnati

Sophomore guard Sam Hines Jr. scored six of his career-high 12 points from the free-throw line in Wednesday’s loss to Cincinnati. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF men’s basketball fell to Cincinnati 70-59 on Wednesday at the Yuengling Center thanks to a second-half scoring drought marred by turnovers and physical play that led to foul trouble.

“​​Give [Cincinnati] credit, they made timely, timely baskets, and we weren’t able to match those,” coach Brian Gregory said. “We played very well to start the second half but just not enough. Just not able to make enough baskets during some crucial times, and they were.”

During a seven-minute stretch that coincided with sophomore guard Caleb Murphy being called for his fourth personal foul, the Bulls (7-15, 2-8 AAC) scored just three points and committed six turnovers. 

“We got a little sloppy with the ball and they were pressuring us too,” Gregory said. “It was a physical game. And there were a couple possessions where we weren’t as strong with the ball as we needed to be.”

Gregory was forced to turn to freshman guard Trey Moss for extended minutes in the second half. Moss, who averages just nine minutes per game, played 15 on Wednesday. 

“I thought [Moss] played well tonight against the pressure that he faced,” Gregory said. “This game is a hard game for a true freshman to play with the physicality and the intensity that it’s played at.

“I was disappointed that Murphy had to be on the bench during that stretch, but at the same time I thought Trey handled himself extremely well.”

By the time Murphy checked back in the game with five minutes remaining, Cincinnati had taken a decisive 13-point lead.

Much like Monday’s win over Temple, the Bulls focused on attacking the rim rather than settling for three-point shots on offense.

Sophomore guard Sam Hines Jr. came off the bench and provided a scoring spark, forcing his way to the free-throw line and creating space for open mid-range jumpers.

“I thought Sam played really well for us today,” Gregory said. “He’s really been working on his game and you’re seeing it. He was great in the mid-range, great at attacking the basket, and really good at the free-throw line.”

Hines Jr. finished with a team-high 12 points, a personal best for him this season.

“I just came out today playing aggressive,” he said. “I saw they had a 7-footer guarding me at times so I’ll just stay aggressive, trying to create plays. I was just hitting my shots today and had a good game. Of course we wanted to win but we’ll get the next one.”

On defense, the Bulls struggled to withstand the red-hot shooting of Cincinnati guard David DeJulius, who finished with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. 

Most of the damage he caused came in the first half, though, with 16 points at the break. Gregory made halftime adjustments with senior guard Javon Greene, who spent all of his 35 minutes following DeJulius around the court on defense.

“[DeJulius] started a little too comfortable on offense in the first half,” Gregory said. “So we talked to Javon about putting a little more ball pressure on him. Not letting him go where he wanted and I thought he did a very good job of that in the second half.”

Despite an efficient start, Wednesday turned out to be another struggle for the Bulls’ shooting. 

They converted just 40% of their field goal attempts and for the second straight game, the team hit just one shot from three-point range.

“You feel bad for the guys, because the effort that they’re giving. And they get those looks. And they’ve put in the time. You just want them to make it,” Gregory said. “We’re disappointed because you just want to have a breakout game where you make a couple of those and now it’s a whole different deal.

“But what you got to do is, you just got to keep going to work. You got to tell the guys, ‘Keep planting the right seeds and the right stuff is going to grow.’”

After playing their second game in three days, the Bulls turn their attention to a matchup at Wichita State on Saturday. The game will tip-off at 8 p.m. on ESPNU and iHeart Radio Bulls Unlimited.