I’m not going to lie to you; this just feels weird. The SEC Championship Game is tomorrow and USF athletics are in disarray, so why in the world were the Georgia Bulldogs in Tampa on Friday night to face the South Florida Bulls in a college basketball game? They were there, it turns out, to take part in the SEC/Big East Challenge, in which they suffered a 64-53 setback in a winnable game.
The story of the first half was simple enough; the two teams shot about equally as well from the field---Georgia hit eight of 20 shots; South Florida went eight for 19---but the Bulldogs drained just two of nine from beyond the arc and hit four of four from the charity stripe, while the Bulls had four of five three-point tries drop and made seven of nine free throws in the first 20 minutes. Consequently, the Floridians led the Athenians, 27-22, at the break.
The Red and Black closed the gap at the outset of the second half on layups by Nemanja Djurisic and Marcus Thornton, cutting the USF edge to a single point as the home team’s Shaun Noriega missed consecutive treys. Unfortunately, Noriega’s teammate, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, made his shot from downtown, which aided the Bulls in their effort to extend their advantage once more. When Noriega finally knocked one down from three-point range with 16:35 remaining, South Florida went out in front by eight.
Thornton responded with a three-pointer of his own, then Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added another. By the time Sherrard Brantley hit one from long range, as well, the host squad’s lead was down to 39-38 with 12 and a half minutes left to play. A minute later, Caldwell-Pope drove home the dunk that put Georgia up by one. The seesaw battle continued until the game was tied, 50-50, following a Donte` Williams tip-in with four minutes to go.
From there, though, it was all Bulls. USF’s Anthony Collins hit the jumper and the free throw that gave the Floridians a three-point advantage, and, while Vincent Williams committed a pair of fouls and Caldwell-Pope missed a couple of shots, South Florida surged into a 57-50 lead, and that was the ballgame. The Bulls went on to win by eleven.
Though the Red and Black scored more points in the paint (16-14), they also committed more fouls (11-5), pulled down fewer rebounds (24-26), hit fewer three-pointers (6-8), and made fewer free throws (7-14). Caldwell-Pope led the Bulldogs’ scoring with 19 points, but no other Athenian had more than John Cannon’s eight. Unfortunately, it feels like this is going to be a recurring pattern this season.