tampabay.com

Road breakthrough elusive

The Bulls lose their 15th Big East road game in 15 tries despite an early second-half lead.

By DENIS GORMAN
Published February 25, 2007


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.-One loss? It happens. Two losses, coincidence. But 15 consecutive losses? That's a trend.

Since joining the Big East, USF has lost all 15 road games it has played.

The latest came Saturday night, 89-76 to Seton Hall at the Meadowlands. It was Senior Night for the Pirates.

USF has one more shot to win its first Big East road game with the March 3 season finale at DePaul.

McHugh Mattis led USF with 21 points. Junior forward Brian Laing led Seton Hall with 21. Freshman guards Eugene Harvey and Jammar Nutter added 19 and 16, respectively, for the Pirates.

The Bulls have found all manner of ways to lose road games this season. Blowouts, close losses, poor perimeter defense and turnovers have highlighted their struggles. This time, the killer was second-half turnovers. USF committed 11 of its 19 in the second half, leading to 15 of 54 Seton Hall points.

For most of the game, the Bulls' athletic big men caused matchup problems for the smaller Pirates. Kentrell Gransberry and Mattis were able to use their strength and speed to get to the rim and offensive glass for easy baskets. At the half, USF held a 37-35 lead.

Gransberry scored 11 of his 19 in the second half to allow USF to maintain its slim lead while Seton Hall's guards kept attacking.

But after Gransberry committed his fourth foul with 9:57 left, the Pirates repeatedly attacked the rim for layups and fouls and much like they've done all season, and USF could not hold off its hard-charging opponent.

Forwards Stan Gaines and Laing and Nutter sparked a 25-11 run with their outside shooting. That saw the Pirates go from being down 57-49 to enjoying a 74-68 lead.

"I thought we broke down a lot" in the second half, Mattis said. "(We played) horrible transition defense."

The punctuation on Seton Hall's second-half dominance was a Laing alley-oop dunk off an inbounds play with 1:15 left.

"Anytime you lose, it's frustrating," coach Robert McCullum said. "When the same things hurt you, it's frustrating. You try harder to improve.

"Turnovers have plagued us all year; 26 points off of turnovers tell the story there."

The Pirates kept their slim Big East tournament hopes alive. Seton Hall needs to win its remaining games and hope St. John's loses all its games. The Bulls were eliminated from postseason contention last week.