TAMPA (Jan. 4, 2014) – USF stepped up its game after the break but couldn’t put together the run it needed down the stretch in a 67-58 loss to Houston on Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 3,921 at the Sun Dome.
USF (9-6, 0-2) cut a 34-26 halftime deficit down to three with 13:52 remaining on a jumper by Martino Brock but couldn’t get any closer. The Bulls scored six points in the final 5 minutes and struggled from the free throw line, going 13-for-25 in their second straight loss. USF missed its first 10 3-point attempts and went 5-for-21 from long range while turning the ball over 16 times.
Brock finished with a team-high 11 points and freshman forward/center Chris Perry added 10 points as USF wrapped up a two-game stint at the Sun Dome.
“It’s hard when you’re not getting outside shots to fall. It’s hard when you’re not making free throws,” head coach Stan Heath said. “That defense really just hovers around Chris and John (Egbunu), which really makes it hard for those two guys that are big and fairly productive for us.”
TaShawn Thomas led three other Cougars in double figures with 13 points while coming up big on the defensive end with six blocks and six steals. Tione Womack and Danrad Knowles scored 12 points apiece and Jherrod Stiggers added 11 points in the second straight win for Houston (10-5, 2-0).
“Houston is playing good basketball at this period in time and they’ve got some tough weapons out there,” Heath said. “Thomas and some of those other guys are really stepping their games up.”
USF grabbed the first lead of the game on a layup by Perry but took nearly 5 minutes to score its next field goal as Houston started on a 10-5 run, powered by six points from Womack.
Houston made four of its first five shots from long range and a 3-pointer by Brandon Morris extended the lead to 28-14 while the Bulls started 5-for-18 from the field and 0-for-7 from beyond the arc.
USF shot 45 percent from the field in the second half but couldn't string together shots down the stretch.
Musa Abdul-Aleem connected on USF’s fourth 3-pointer of the second half to cut the deficit to 44-40 with 12:23 left but Houston answered right back with a dunk by Knowles and never trailed by less than five the rest of the way. Abdul-Aleem finished with eight points and Egbunu fell short of another double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.
The Bulls look to bounce back during a two-game road trip that starts Thursday, Jan. 9 at Temple at 7 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
“If we can get a win it would do a lot for our psyche,” Heath said. “It would do a lot for giving us momentum, so it’s a big, big game in front of us.”
USF wraps up its road trip with a test at SMU on Wednesday, Jan. 15 before returning to the Sun Dome to host Cincinnati on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 5 p.m. Purchase tickets HERE and stay updated on the Bulls by following the team on Twitter @USFMBB.