Bulls can't battle back from early letdown

A miserable first half dooms USF one game after its big win.

By LISA KENNELLY, Special to the Times
Published February 8, 2007

NEW YORK - After the ranked opponents USF has been tangling with, unranked St. John's shouldn't have been a problem.

Spotting the Red Storm a 21-point halftime lead? Now that's a problem.

A frantic comeback and a double double from junior center Kentrell Gransberry weren't enough to overcome the deficit as the Bulls lost 66-62 Wednesday in front of 4,597 at Carnesecca Arena.

"We weren't playing hard, we didn't defend their 3-point shooters and we didn't take care of the basketball," said a frustrated coach Robert McCullum.

Gransberry had his eighth double double with 20 points and 19 rebounds, including 15 points and 13 rebounds in the second half to pull USF as close as two with 36.9 seconds left.

But junior guard Avery Patterson sank two free throws with 33 seconds left to put the game out of reach.

USF looked sluggish and nothing like the team that stunned then-No. 21 Notre Dame and almost beat then-No. 15 Marquette the previous two games. The Bulls shot just 31.8 percent (7-of-22) in the first half; St. John's (14-10, 5-6) converted 7 of 13 3-pointers.

The Bulls tied their second-lowest first-half output this season and trailed 40-19.

Turnovers proved the Bulls' undoing as they handed the ball over 11 times in the first half to St. John's three.

"You have to give credit to them for taking advantage of our miscues," McCullum said.

But USF was re-energized and focused in the second half, paced by Gransberry.

The junior was merciless on the boards, which seemed to unnerve the Red Storm. Instead of converting 3-pointers, St. John's started tossing up air balls. And Gransberry was almost always nearby, totaling 13 defensive rebounds.

"He's a tremendous player, and really hurt us on the glass," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "I think we just got a little bit tentative."

Gransberry said: "I got off to a slow start so I felt I had to get into the game more."

The Bulls (12-12, 3-7) sit in 14th place in the Big East. Only the top 12 teams make the tournament cut, and with six games left USF doesn't have much margin for error.

St. John's is tied with Connecticut and DePaul for the final three spots. It hasn't qualified since the 2002-03 season.