Bulls fail to slow down Tulane’s potent offense in loss

Junior guard Serrel Smith Jr. converted four of his seven three-point attempts in a season-high 17-point performance against Tulane. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF men’s basketball was outpaced by an efficient and balanced Tulane offense in a 76-57 loss at the Yuengling Center on Tuesday night. The Bulls have now lost 11 of their last 13 games.

“[Tulane is] playing at a really high level offensively right now with three out of the top 10 leading scorers in our league,” coach Brian Gregory said. “So we needed an exceptional defensive effort and unfortunately we weren’t able to execute that.”

The Bulls (7-17, 2-10 AAC) started the game matching their opponents’ scoring output, but fell away following a 14-1 Tulane (12-11, 9-5 AAC) run that lasted six and a half minutes. Despite fighting back to within single digits, USF’s comeback effort was stifled by a 7-0 Tulane run to end the first half.

“We cut the lead to six there with [a few minutes] to go in the half, we just didn’t finish out the half well,” Gregory said. “Then they scored in the first possession in the second half and we were just playing catch-up the entire time.”

As evidenced by an offense that ranks among the worst in the country, the Bulls are not built for a game of catch-up, especially against such a strong Tulane offense.

Coming into the game, the Green Wave ranked as the conference’s best three-point shooting team by percentage (37.6%) and a top-five scoring offense overall at 73.8 points per game. 

Tulane bested both of those averages Tuesday. As a team, they shot 53% from the field and 39% from three-point range while committing just seven turnovers. 

“They don’t turn the ball over, they’re top 15 in the country in amount of turnovers per game,” Gregory said. “They get the ball in one guy’s hands, throw a couple passes and then that guy’s getting a shot up. So there’s not a lot of passes to turn the ball over.”

The Green Wave was led in scoring by sophomore guard Jaylen Forbes’ 22 points, but had three others in double digits, including 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting from sophomore forward Kevin Cross.

“They did a pretty good job spacing the floor,” junior guard Serrel Smith Jr. said. “Attacking [the rim], finding a mismatch, finding open spots on the court. They kept it real simple.”

Regarding Forbes’ high scoring night, Gregory mentioned the absence of sophomore guard Jamir Chaplin, who injured his ankle in Saturday’s 73-69 loss at Wichita State.

“We had some difficult matchups, obviously,” Gregory said. 

“I thought in [the previous game against Tulane] Jamir did a tremendous job on Forbes and him not being out there tonight hurt. With [senior guard Javon Greene] and him we have two pretty good perimeter defenders.”

For a team that averages just 57.6 points per game, the Bulls could not afford any lapses in judgment on offense. Thanks in part to Tulane scoring 19 points off 15 USF turnovers, the Bulls predictably fell off the pace quite early.

“That’s the difference in the game. You got to be strong with the ball,” Gregory said. “You got to be strong with your decision-making against their zone, against their pressure. And we just weren’t able to do that tonight.”

One bright spot from Tuesday’s loss was Smith’s performance. He scored a season-high 17 points in just 14 minutes off the bench, and he accounted for half of the Bulls’ three-pointers by himself.

“We told him he needed to be aggressive and I thought he was,” Gregory said. “I thought he made some good plays and hopefully he can build on that a little bit. We need his scoring and we need his scoring in quality offensive possessions.”

Most of those quality looks for Smith came in the second half as time winded down and the Bulls chased the game down by double digits, but Tuesday showed he’s capable of scoring in volume when needed.

“I just stayed mentally ready and locked in,” he said. “I can’t forget the help of my teammates and the coaching staff making sure I kept my head in the game. I’ve always been ready [to score].”

USF managed to convert eight of its 22 three-point attempts, both a season-high in three-pointers made and the most efficient long-range shooting night the Bulls have had all season.

“I guess one silver lining is [the three-point shooting], but if you take away Serrel’s 4-of-7 we were 4-of-15 for everyone else, which isn’t great,” Gregory said. “But it’s better than we have shot. We’ll take [36%] right now.”

USF men’s basketball will return to the court at the Yuengling Center on Thursday when it hosts East Carolina. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be streamed on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.