TAMPA — For most of Sunday afternoon’s game against No. 21/22 Memphis, it appeared as though South Florida would snap its 27-game losing streak against ranked opponents.
Certainly, that was the feeling when the Bulls led by 14 after David Collins’ breakaway slam raised the Yuengling Center roof with 13:15 remaining. The Bulls, though, could not get the stops they needed on the defensive end of the floor and went cold on the other end. The result was a 68-64 loss.
“I thought our guys played their hearts out,” said USF coach Brian Gregory. “We were not able to get the defensive stops when our offense slowed up a bit. We have to make better decisions and share the ball better.”
The Bulls’ last win against a ranked opponent was February 29, 2012 when, as a member of the Big East, they won at Louisville, 58-51. Sunday marked their second game against a ranked team this season. USF lost to Florida State at the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise last month, 66-60.
Memphis took the lead for good at 63-61 on Precious Achiuwa’s dunk with 1:40 remaining. The Bulls (8-9/1-3 American) made only one of their final 11 shots from the floor while the Tigers (13-3/2-1) made seven of their last nine, which Gregory attributed in part to the defensive miscues.
“We had some defensive breakdowns during that stretch and when you do that, they are so offensively gifted and long that they were able to get to the basket,” he said.
The Tigers shot 57.1 percent in the second half and 54.8 for the game.
Collins finished with a game-high 24 points. He had 13 in the first half when the Bulls took a 37-29 lead into the break. Their biggest lead of the half was 37-25 when Zack Dawson hit a three-pointer with two minutes remaining.
“What we had to do was pay more attention to David,” said Memphis coach Penny Hardaway. “He was giving us fits. After his dunk, I said to the boys that there is still plenty of time left and we have to shut him down.”
From that point, Collins did not have another field goal — he had nine points from the line — and the Bulls overall went cold.
Memphis shot 52.4 percent in the opening half (11-for-21), but with three minutes left the Tigers had nearly as many turnovers (13) as field goal attempts (15). Meanwhile, the Bulls cashed in by scoring 16 points off those turnovers while turning the ball over only five times.
When it was all said and done, though, it was Memphis that prevailed in front of announced 5,209.
“We don’t get discouraged,” said Gregory. “We are disappointed we didn’t finish this one, we’re disappointed we haven’t finished a few of them. But, our guys keep coming back to the plate to take another swing at it. Where were are at in this process, that’s a great trait to have.”
The Bulls are back in action next Saturday (6 p.m.) at UCF and return home to play No. 23/23 Wichita State on Jan. 21.