TAMPA – The brand new Sun Dome is finished, but the
USF men’s basketball team is still a work in progress.
Jawanza Poland came off the bench to score a career-high 22
points, but the Bulls couldn’t get a rhythm going in a season opening 74-56
loss to UCF on Saturday night.
“We need some time to really figure some things out and get
back to playing defense the way we need to, rebounding especially,” USF head
coach Stan Heath said.
The Knights had four players finish in double figures with
stars Isaiah Sykes and Keith Clanton leading the way. Sykes scored 17 of his
game-high 26 points in the first half and posted 11 rebounds. Clanton had 16
points and his 16 rebounds helped UCF grab a 45-26 advantage on the boards.
“Anytime you do that you have a chance to win. Tonight we
were fortunate to get those rebounds playing a big lineup,” UCF head coach
Donnie Jones said.
The Bulls’ only lead came in the first half when senior
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick got the crowd going with a 3-pointer that put USF ahead,
7-6. UCF wound up with a 40-24 advantage at halftime after limiting the Bulls
to nine field goals (9-for-29).
Poland powered the USF scoring attack with 17 points in the
second half, but the Bulls’ defense couldn’t get UCF out of its groove. The
Knights shot 57 percent from the field after the break and didn’t let up after
Poland cut USF’s deficit to 12 with 8:58 to play.
“There were so many times when we tried to do something and
one guy was out of sorts,” Heath said. “We just have to spend more time in the
gym really tightening up the ship.”
One thing that wasn’t in question was the large amount of
support the Bulls got in their first game back at the Sun Dome with an electric
crowd of 7,717 in attendance.
“I was very, very impressed with the turnout tonight. We let
them down, but we still have a lot of games to go,” Heath said.
The Bulls look to bounce back during a busy stretch of
basketball back at the Sun Dome starting next weekend. Heath’s squad starts its
run at the USF Invitational on Friday, Nov. 16 against Maryland Eastern Shore
at 7:30 p.m. The Bulls play Loyola-Chicago the next night at 7:30 and finish up
with Western Michigan on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 3 p.m.