NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Owls saw their season come to an abrupt end with a 58-44 loss to South Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night at the Bridgestone Arena. The 10:01 p.m. [EST] game was played physically, hard-nosed and both teams had trouble getting into any kind of rhythm offensively.
In the first half, South Florida shot 11.1 percent from the field, scoring three field goals in 27 attempts, but the Bulls had a turnaround on offensive and shot 60.9 percent in the second half to go onto win.
“I thought South Florida did a terrific job in the second half, made shots when they needed,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “We didn’t get it done. We didn’t do a good enough job and turned it a few too many times at critical points, and again [South Florida] stepped up and made the shots when they had to.”
South Florida started the second half on a 15-4 run in less than five minutes, which allowed them to capture a 30-23 lead, including all the momentum they could ask for after a slow first half.
A pair of dunks by senior guard Hugh Robertson during the run gave the Bulls added energy and confidence. Robertson had six points, five rebounds, three steals and a block to aid South Florida’s shutdown defense.
The Owls led, 19-15, at the halftime and had a lead as large as 11 with six and a half minutes remaining in the first half. Temple shot 38.5 percent, which would be better than their second half percentage of 34.5.
But shooting woes along with defensive efforts throughout the game kept the Bulls within striking distance. On the season, South Florida set a Big East record by allowing 56.9 points per game.
The Owls became the Bulls’ 12th straight opponent to score less than 60 points in a game.
“I think [South Florida] is the best defensive team we played against all year,” redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore said. “Coming in, we knew those guys would hold their own on the defensive end.”
Moore failed to score a basket until the 12 minute-mark of the second half. Moore, the Owls’ leading scorer, who averaged 17.7 points for the year, went 0-for-6 before making the lay up.
Senior guard Juan Fernandez struggled from the field, going 0-for-2 on the night, recording a single point in the first half off the free throw line.
The Owls found themselves down 14 points with just under 11 minutes remaining in the game. Graduate center Micheal Eric made back-to-back buckets to cut the deficit to 10 and then junior guard Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Wyatt and Moore each made baskets to cut the margin to three at 41-38 with just under six minutes remaining.
With their 11-0 run, the Owls were seemingly back in the game after making a series of stops on the defensive end. The momentum appeared to have shifted to the Owls’ side.
Sophomore forward Victor Rudd, Jr. put the Owls’ run to rest by firing a deep three-pointer that banked off the backboard and went in with about five minutes remaining in the game. Rudd finished tied for a game-high 17 with Bulls’ freshman guard Anthony Collins.
On the next possession, Wyatt drove to the basket, felt contact, missed the lay up and subsequently yelled at the official to make a call. He then was charged with a technical foul and South Florida’s Noriega made 1-of-1 free throws.
Rudd sank another three pointer on the following possession to give the Bulls a 48-38 lead with 2 minutes and 37 seconds remaining in the game, as the Bulls would hold onto upset the Owls.
“It’s really disappointing,” Wyatt said. “They played better than us in stretches and we just couldn’t pull it off.
“There’s nothing we can do now,” Moore said. “Just look back on it and say we could have done more, but I mean, I wanted to go further [in the tournament], but it didn’t happen, so we’re very disappointed.”
Dunphy said the team will regroup in the next couple weeks and will look at what it can do to start preparing for next season.
“We’ll watch film again with those guys that are coming back, and we’ll see if we can tighten it up even more,” Dunphy said. “We’ll get with the guys that are coming back and try to prepare for next year and see if we can get back here.”
Connor Showalter can be reached at email@example.com.