“I don’t have any doubt that we’re going to be very good…but its been tough and we’re going to be stronger, we’re going to do better, we’re going to go through this and be a better group of guys getting out of this.”
Coach Stan Heath is right, this team will get better but fans and supporters of the USF Mens Basketball program are starting to question if he is the right coach to lead that improvement. After losing to Temple 66-65 on Saturday afternoon, a game in which the Bulls led by 18 points midway through the second half, the bandwagon calling for him to be fired probably added a few members.
It’s either blowouts or last second heartaches for this team with little in between. The 30+ point road losses to Louisville and UConn were difficult to swallow because of the embarrassment of never being in the game. But the last second buzzer beaters against UCF at home and versus the Owls carried their own frustration because the team was in position to win with seconds left.
This loss hurts more because it was an opportunity for Bulls to help seniors Martino Brock and Victor Rudd celebrate Senior Day and their USF career with a victory.
For thirty minutes it seemed as if anything other than a comfortable victory would be out of the question.
In addition to the consistent and steady play from the its seniors, the Bulls got an extra lift in the box score from sophomore forward Zach Leday and junior guard Corey Allen Jr. Leday, a sophomore from Colony TX, scored eight points on 3-of-5 shooting and filled in as a big forward after John Egbunu and Chris Perry both picked up two fouls in the first half. Allen Jr. has been struggling throughout conference play — only scoring in double figures three times, but on Saturday it looked as if he had recaptured the shooting confidence that made him the Bull’s second leading scorer as he led them with 18 points including three three-pointers.
“I think he’s been putting the weight of the world on his shoulders to try to do things and I think he kinda decided that I’m just going to play… if I got good shots and good plays I’m going to make them” said Coach Heath when asked about Allen’s play. “When he has that mindset he’s pretty good — throughout this game I’m not sure he played point guard hardly at all, we really kept him off the ball so he was free to think of himself as a scorer.”
The struggles for Allen Jr. started shortly after the loss of junior point guard Anthony Collins for the season due to a lingering knee injury and continued as freshman Josh Heath endured the growing pains of being thrown into the fire of major college basketball. Allen Jr. is a natural scorer, but he was forced to handle the ball more and he may not have been ready for the added responsibility of ball distributor.
But It was not just Allen Jr. who saw his production plummet as the season progressed. Freshmen big men Chris Perry and John Egbunu experienced “hitting the freshman wall” and the game against Temple was a microcosm of it. Both players combined to shoot only 4-of-11 from the field and ended up with as many combined fouls (6) as rebounds.
“Every new guy at the beginning of the season was playing well and they thought it was going to be easy coming down the stretch… they don’t understand those are the easy teams, those are the teams we were supposed to blow out” said Victor Rudd on the struggles of his teammates. “That’s something they gon learn and gotta take into next season… that they gotta come to play every night.”
As much as many one to focus on what USF did to lose this game, Temple used its senior star to fuel the comeback. After being held to five points in the first half, guard Dalton Pepper used a 15 point second half as the springboard to help chip away the large Bulls lead
“At that point when you are down that much, it’s not that much pressure on you the pressure goes to the other side at that point,” said Temple Head Coach Fran Dunphy.
Peppers hit big shots in the comeback but it wasn’t a one-man show. After being limited in the first half due to foul trouble, guard Will Cummings not only scored 14 points in the second half, but it was his pass to Quenton Decosey that led to the score for the winning basket with 1 second left. Cummings, a junior from Jacksonville, came into the game averaging 16.6 ppg for the season but was forced to the bench at the 8:05 mark after picking up his third foul in the first half.
The loss was the eighth in a row for the Bulls and they end the season with a record of12-19 (3-14 AAC) The Bulls look to salvage the season, and maybe even Coach Heath’s job, with a good showing in Memphis TN. during the American Athletic Conference tournament that begins on Wednesday as the No. 10 seed against No. 7 seed Rutgers. With a new athletic director on the horizon for the university, it may be important for Coach Heath to not just talk about the talent that will be returning to the program, but give the university results they can believe in.