Resurgent second-half shooting not enough for Bulls to take down Stetson

Senior guard Tyler Harris Jr. rejuvenated the Bulls with 15 points in the second half, but couldn’t convert the game-winning shot. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

Despite a second half in which they shot 54% from the floor, South Florida men’s basketball lost to Stetson 68-67 Wednesday night at the Yuengling Center.

Stetson (2-0) charged out to a double-digit lead, but 15 points from senior guard Tyler Harris Jr. and 67% shooting from three-point range after halftime helped the Bulls close the deficit down to one point.

In the end, Harris’ final shot and senior forward Keyshawn Bryant’s attempted putback rattled off the rim with five seconds to go, allowing Stetson to hang on for the victory.

Though USF couldn’t pull out the win, its improved shooting in the second half marked a significant turnaround. The Bulls, who shot just 17% from three-point range in the first half, have been plagued by poor shooting throughout coach Brian Gregory’s six-year tenure.

After previously making just eight of 45 attempts from three-point range this season, Gregory attributes the sudden second-half jump in shooting percentage to the team’s increased discipline.

“We took the threes that showed as opposed to forcing them,” Gregory said. “There’s a lot of freedom within our offense, but there’s parameters and when we go outside those parameters and those guardrails, we get in trouble.”

Harris led the team’s shooting resurgence. He shot 78% from the floor in the second half, and made a three-pointer after missing his previous 15 attempts. Even though Harris’ final shot of the game didn’t fall, he remains confident in his ability to perform in late-game situations like this one.

“I got open and I just knocked down the shot,” Harris said. “I want to be in that position. In the last shot of the game, I feel like I should be the one taking it.”

Junior guard Jamir Chaplin matched Harris as the team’s highest scorer, with 15 points to go along with six rebounds. Bryant, who led the Bulls in scoring to this point, chipped in three points and collected a team-high seven rebounds.

Prior to Monday’s matchup, the Bulls had won 15 straight games over the Hatters dating back to Dec. 5, 1989. However, Stetson’s wire-to-wire Nov. 7 victory over Florida State along with Monday’s performance proves these are not the Hatters of old.

Gregory praised the performance of Stetson junior point guard Stephan Swenson, who averaged 11.5 points and five assists through two games this season.

“They’re tough to handle because they space you, and in Swenson, they have a point guard that runs the whole team and he made some big plays tonight,” Gregory said.

The Bulls are now winless through three games for the first time since Gregory took over at USF. Gregory pointed to the team’s 51% free-throw shooting as one of the reasons for their record.

“If we were shooting 70% from the free throw line, we would probably be 3-0 right now,” Gregory said. “The answers aren’t that hard to figure out, it’s getting it done that’s gonna be the hard part.”

USF will next take on Austin Peay at home on Thursday night. The Governors opened up their season with two blowout losses to NC State and Purdue, but rebounded with a dominant 98-74 victory over conference opponent Milligan on Nov. 11.

Austin Peay and USF last faced off in December 2021, with the Bulls winning the game 60-51.

This time, the Bulls will have the difficult task of guarding 2021-22 Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year Elijah Hutchins-Everett. Hutchins-Everett led the Governors in most major offensive statistics last season and represents one of the most formidable threats the Bulls will face in its early run of play.

Tip-off on Thursday against Austin Peay is scheduled for 7 p.m at the Yuengling Center. The game will be livestreamed on ESPN+ and broadcast on BullsUnlimited.