South Florida's starters eventually wear down after an encouraging effort against the heavily favored 49ers.
By CRAIG DISTL
Published February 19, 2004
CHARLOTTE - Give South Florida credit. With their season in ruins, postseason dreams long gone, and only a handful of scholarship players, the Bulls continue to stay competitive.
Wednesday night, USF rode its starters as long as possible, giving the heavily favored Charlotte 49ers a scare before falling 84-72 in front of 6,727 at Halton Arena.
The Bulls (7-15, 1-10 Conference USA) overcame a shaky start and battled to within two of the 49ers three times in the second.
In the end, however, the Bulls' lack of depth was exposed. With four of five starters playing 34 minutes or more, South Florida was no match for the fresher legs of Charlotte (16-6, 8-3). The 49ers had no players in for more than 33 minutes and that paid off down the stretch.
Charlotte senior guard Demon Brown, a streaky shooter, made two big 3-point baskets midway through the second to break open a tight game and push the lead to 66-57 with 10:28 left.
Those shots seemed to finally subdue any idea of a South Florida upset. From that point, USF never got closer than six. Those 3-pointers were part of an impressive night for Brown, seeking redemption after losing his starting status and having to sit out a game for an incident in which he was arrested for communicating threats.
"To his credit, he made some tough shots," Bulls coach Robert McCullum said of Brown, who finished with a game-high 22.
Despite the minutes his starters logged, McCullum refused to blame the Bulls' second-half woes on fatigue. Instead, he pointed to execution and the 16 turnovers.
"The starters know they're going to play 36 to 40 minutes. That's the way it's been the last six or seven games, and that's going to continue to be the case," McCullum said. "We're aware that everybody we play will have more depth. We have to try to overcome that."
The Bulls did a solid job in the paint. Junior forward Terrence Leather had 19 points and eight rebounds before fouling out, while senior center Gerrick Morris had 10 points and five rebounds. Together, they helped limit Charlotte forward Curtis Withers to five points. Withers came into the game leading the league with 13 double doubles.
South Florida topped the 49ers in shooting, hitting 50 percent, while Charlotte finished at 47. But even though the Bulls ruled the paint, Charlotte gained a distinct advantage behind the 3-point line. The 49ers had 36 points (12 of 28) from long range, while South Florida scored just 12 on 4-of-13.
One thing that should give USF fans hope, is the way the Bulls recovered. Early in the first, it looked as if the Bulls were going to get blown out. A series of turnovers and ill-advised fouls fueled a Charlotte run that put the 49ers ahead 26-11 with 11:25 left.
However, Morris started a South Florida comeback with the first of three dunks. The comeback continued as the Bulls forced the ball inside to Morris and Leather to cut the deficit to 41-36. They finished the first half down 44-38.
South Florida meets Houston at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.