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Missed opportunities cost Bulls as losing streak continues

Junior guard Serrel Smith Jr. knocked down a career-high five three-pointers in Thursday’s loss to East Carolina. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF men’s basketball lost its fourth consecutive game Thursday night due to consistent miscues against East Carolina that saw the Bulls fall 65-57. It is the program’s longest losing streak of the season.

The Bulls (7-18, 2-11 AAC) were outscored by the Pirates (13-12, 3-10) 36-29 over the final 20 minutes, but it was their inability to capitalize on ECU’s mistakes that cost them the game. 

ECU was held to just 18 shots in the second half and finished the game with 17 turnovers, but USF managed just 11 points off those turnovers. The Bulls also grabbed five more offensive rebounds, but still finished with fewer second-chance points.

“Very rarely do you take 17 more shots than your opponent and not win the game,” coach Brian Gregory said. “We force 17 turnovers but only get 11 points out of those 17 turnovers. We get 11 offensive rebounds and only get six second-chance points.

“So the effort stuff [is there], we need to have some more production after the effort.”

The Bulls trailed for much of the second half after trading the lead back and forth in the opening minutes. They made several runs, coming within five points of the lead at one point, but couldn’t manage to string together enough stops to complete the comeback.

Down 54-49 with 1:44 remaining, ECU junior guard Tremont Robinson-White knocked down a three-pointer at the end of the shot clock to give the Pirates an eight-point lead and effectively end the game.

“We did a really good defensive possession and then Robinson, who at that time is 1-of-4 from the three, makes the shot at the clock,” Gregory said. “So you have a chance to cut it to two and now your next possession it’s eight. So that was a tough one.

“That probably sealed the game.”

Aside from their defense, the Bulls still struggled offensively. USF shot 34% from the field but had a decent showing from beyond the arc, making 36% of their three-point attempts, one of the highest marks of the season.

The team was led by junior guard Serrel Smith Jr. who was making his second start of the season following his 17 points in Tuesday’s loss to Tulane. He finished with a season-high 18 points to lead all scorers. He also knocked down a career-high five three-pointers.  

“All season we’ve been struggling getting to the high scoring area, so [I’ve been] trying to put the ball in the basket anyway I can,” he said.

Gregory chose to start Smith again not only because of his impressive output against Tulane, but the effort that he put in.

“I was pleased with the way he played,” Gregory said of Smith. “I was pleased with his shot selection … He showed maturity and took quality shots for us. Obviously as he moves forward and plays more we got to get some other things from him as well.

“It was a good start for sure.”

With the Bulls losing their last four games and only a handful of games remaining on the schedule, starting with Tulsa on Saturday, Gregory’s message for the team moving forward is to dig deep to finish the season strong.

“We got to dig down,” he said. “We’re going to play, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. We got to get back to work and get prepared for Saturday afternoon.”

The Bulls will play the Golden Hurricane at the Yuengling Center on Saturday at noon. The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.