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USF’s strong second-half powers victory against East Carolina

Junior forward Romi Levy (pictured center) attempting a three-pointer in the Bulls’ 54-40 win against Memphis. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF women’s basketball outscored East Carolina 22-8 in the third quarter en route to a 54-40 on Sunday afternoon.

The Bulls (12-9, 4-4 AAC) snapped their three-game losing streak to get their first win since Jan. 10 against Tulsa and the program’s 750th overall. 

Junior forward Romi Levy played in all 40 minutes of Sunday’s game and scored a team-high 21 points. 

“I think there was a lot of frustration inside of us from losing three games back to back to back,” Levy said. “And we’ve been working really hard this week to make sure that we’re not going to lose this game.”

Levy had 27 points in the Bulls’ 65-61 loss to North Texas. Her fadeaway jumper in the third quarter tied the game for the Bulls on Sunday 30-30.

Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said that Levy is becoming more comfortable in the offensive system. This is her first year with USF after transferring from Auburn.

Related: Is an automatic NCAA tournament berth still on the table for USF?

“I think it’s scary that a kid like that has two more years of basketball after this one,” he said. “She’s very talented and coachable.”

Sophomore wing Carla Brito’s layup gave the Bulls the lead in the next possession. It was the last of 14 unanswered USF points after starting the second half down eight.

It was also USF’s first lead since the six-minute and 13-second mark in the first quarter.

The Bulls contained Pirates (11-8, 4-4 AAC) guard Danae McNeal in the second half. McNeal averaged 32.5 points per game in her last two contests.

She totaled 25 points, four in the second half. McNeal shot nine-for-25 from the field and missed her last 11 shot attempts. 

“We had one guy beating us,” Fernandez said. “And we lost her on coverages and we needed to have Ariel on the floor to defend her and quit coming to help to foul, to steal or to block a shot.“

Other than McNeal, the rest of the Pirates shot just two for 13 from the field in the first half, keeping the game close. 

Neither team scored a basket during the first half’s final six minutes and 58 seconds. USF missed its last 11 shots of the second quarter.  

USF also fell behind early due to its offensive rebounding. The Bulls gave up nine second-chance points in the first quarter alone. 

“We weren’t pushing back,” Fernandez said. “That’s got nothing to do with coaching or drawing up a play, that’s all about effort and accountability.” 

Related: Women’s basketball places first in preseason poll for fourth consecutive year

USF moved into a four-way tie for sixth place in the conference standings. The Bulls finished last season with a 15-1 record in the American while winning the regular season title

Memphis, their next opponent, ranks 11th in the American with just three conference wins.

Winning on Sunday could help the Bulls make up ground in the standings with 10 games left in the season.  North Texas and UAB lead the conference with 6-1 records in AAC play.

“If we control what we can control over the next 10 games, we’ll be right in the hunt for a league championship.” Fernandez said. “Dallas, Fort Worth it’d be a different story, but I like our chances.”

The Bulls head to Tennessee to play Memphis on Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and BullsUnlimited radio.