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Men’s basketball eliminated from AAC Tournament in nail-biter

Freshman guard Caleb Murphy scored a team-high 15 points, including a career-high 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, in the Bulls’ AAC Tournament loss. ORACLE PHOTO/FRANCISCO ROSA

FORT WORTH, TEXAS — The USF men’s basketball season ended Thursday following a heartbreaking 60-58 loss to UCF in the first round of the AAC Tournament at Dickies Arena.

The third matchup between the rivals remained tight throughout the game, but the Bulls (8-23, 3-15 AAC) were outclassed in crunch time.

“[UCF] made some critical plays down the stretch and we had two good looks there at the end and just weren’t able to put them in,” coach Brian Gregory said postgame.

The score was tied at 56 going into the final minute of play. Coming out of a timeout, senior guard Javon Greene drove to the rim looking to take the lead, but ran into heavy contact and lost the ball out of bounds.

On the ensuing possession, UCF (18-11, 9-9) set up a play to get fifth-year guard Darius Perry open from beyond the arc. The super senior, who hit a career-high five three-pointers against USF in the Feb. 3 matchup, drained the shot to take a decisive lead.

The Bulls’ final possession was a microcosm of the team’s season, an example of their strength on the glass and weakness in shooting from deep.

Freshman guard Caleb Murphy penetrated the paint, opening up space for freshman forward Corey Walker Jr. When his shot rimmed out, sophomore center Russel Tchewa battled under the rim to keep the team’s hopes alive.

“There was great effort and intensity on the glass there to tip it out,” Gregory said. “Russ was in there banging.”

The final shot of the season was for senior guard Javon Greene, a player who has a history of late-game heroics for the Bulls this year.

“Javon has hit two or three of those similar shots, game-winning shots,” Gregory said. “It was right there and unfortunately we were just not able to get it done.”

The Bulls outrebounded the Knights 49-36, including a 17-7 advantage on offensive boards, yet both teams scored 10 second-chance points.

The Bulls shot 35% from the field, just below its season average of 37.5%. They held UCF to 36% shooting on the defensive end, but couldn’t match the Knights’ three-point shooting in the second half.

“They shot 10-of-22 from the three so it was the three-point shot again that was the difference in the game,” Gregory said. “We gave up two in the last four possessions of the game.”

With little time to reflect on the season that was, Gregory expressed pride in the team’s attitude despite the lack of success.

“I told the guys the effort and passion that we played with over the last six weeks was really good,” he said. “There’s just not a lot of tangible evidence.

“[In basketball] there are two results. You win games, or you learn. If you really embrace it, it’s going to help you win down the road.”