Bulls drop home finale to talented Memphis squad

Senior guard Javon Greene fouled out in his final game at the Yuengling Center and scored seven points in the loss against Memphis. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

USF men’s basketball battled against Memphis, one of the AAC’s finest teams, but inevitably dropped the final home game of the 2021-22 season 73-64 on Thursday.

“I think we played a very, very talented team that is very connected right now,” coach Brian Gregory said postgame. “That’s a team that I believe is an NCAA tournament team that can win games in the NCAA tournament. They’re talented enough.

“To give our guys credit, they played extremely hard. They fought and they battled.”

Despite missing freshman forward Emoni Bates, one of college basketball’s most hyped prospects, the Tigers were bolstered by the play of freshman center Jalen Duren. 

Duren torched the Bulls inside the paint to the tune of 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds. The Bulls struggled to contain Duren, a player who also has an NBA future ahead of him.

“He got loose a couple of times,” Gregory said. “A couple of them was against the zone. And a couple of them were on put backs, which it’s hard because he’s so big. There’s a reason he’s a top-10 player in the NBA draft.”

Sophomore center Russel Tchewa was efficient on the offensive end, continuing a streak of strong performances. He finished with 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting and played a clean game after picking up two early fouls that resulted in a prolonged stint on the bench.

“It’s clear to see that Russel’s foul trouble in the first half really hurt us,” Gregory said. “Because as teams extend out [on defense], you got to be able to get the ball inside. 

“You got to have someone you can drop the ball off to and score and Russ obviously did that in that second half for us.”

He has now scored at least 13 in four consecutive games, his longest stretch of the season. Even if the team continues to lose, at least its anchor in paint is on a roll at the right time of the season.

The most glaring difference in the box score was in the turnover category. The Tigers came into Thursday averaging 16.9 turnovers per game, worst in the conference and a full four more per game than second-to-last SMU. 

Despite averaging 12.9 opponent turnovers per game, the Bulls managed to take the ball away only six times.

Meanwhile, the Bulls committed 16 turnovers in the loss, a number Gregory attributed to Memphis’ tenacious defense. The Tigers lead the AAC with 8.5 steals per game.

“The thing that they do is they test your focus, your discipline,” Gregory said. “You have to be very focused, every single possession.”

Thursday also marked USF’s senior night festivities but it was far from a fairytale ending for senior guard Javon Greene. He fouled out of the game with three minutes remaining, finishing his one season in Tampa with a paltry seven points.

Gregory was full of praise for Greene, though, making it clear the impact he had on teammates and the program as a whole.

“[Javon] has given everything he’s got for us,” he said. “He brings it every day. He’s got a positive attitude. I love his work ethic. Good things are going to happen to him, he’s got a bright future in basketball.”

The loss drops USF back into a tie for last place in the conference, level with Tulsa, who lost to Wichita State on Wednesday. 

If the current standings hold, the Bulls will play the No. 6-seeded UCF in the first round of the AAC conference tournament next week in Fort Worth, Texas. Another possible opponent is Temple, who the Bulls meet in the regular-season finale on Sunday afternoon.

USF will play Temple in Philadelphia at 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.