Tampa Bay Sports Day

AAC: USF Bulls Show Progress in Loss to Cincinnati in Sun Dome

TAMPA – USF made solid progress against its second straight top-25 foe, leading No. 14/13 Cincinnati for most of the first half before falling, 78-55, Saturday night at the Sun Dome.

USF (7-11, 0-5) had a 10-point advantage with 8:50 left in the opening half and trailed by only two at the break before Cincinnati (15-2, 4-0) pulled away in its eighth consecutive victory.

“I thought Cincinnati’s defensive pressure, not necessarily forcing turnovers, but just overall the defensive pressure, forcing some tough shots and contested shots in the second half was probably the difference in the game,” said USF coach Brian Banks. “The fact that you’re minus-15 at the free throw line just puts you in a tough spot. You’re going to have to be so good in so many other areas.”

Payton Banks gave the Bulls a huge lift in his return to the lineup, knocking down four three-pointers and scoring a game-high 22 points off the bench. Banks, the team’s leading scorer this season, missed three of the past four games with an illness.

Stephan Jiggetts finished with nine points and freshman David Collins (Youngstown, Ohio) scored all seven of his points in USF’s hot first half.

Seeking its first win over a top-25 team since 2012, USF held a lead for nearly 16 minutes of the first half before trailing, 35-33, at the break.

Jiggetts and Malik Martin got the Bulls going early with three-pointers to help USF head into the first media timeout with a 10-6 lead. USF started 4-for-5 from long range and a pair of three-pointers from Banks pumped the advantage up to 19-9 with 8:50 to go before halftime.

Cincinnati gained distance on the Bulls after the break by shooting 70 percent from the field while USF went 6-for-24 (25 percent). The Bearcats headed into Saturday ranking second nationally in scoring defense at 58.6 points allowed per game.

USF travels to Greenville, N.C., for a rematch with East Carolina on Wednesday at 7 p.m. In the teams’ first meeting of the season, USF had a late lead before falling to the Pirates, 67-65, at the Sun Dome on Jan. 3. The Bulls are back at the Sun Dome on Saturday for a War on I-4 matchup with rival UCF that’s set for a 6 p.m. start.

GAME NOTES: USF was the hottest it had ever been in the first half of games this season, shooting 57.1 percent from the field….Payton Banks finished two points shy of his career high of 24 points and one three-pointer short of his career best of five he’s reached in four games….Stephan Jiggetts became the third Bull to play in his 100th-career game this season, joining fellow graduates Banks and Terrence Samuel….Cincinnati now has a 32-8 advantage in the all-time series with USF.

By TOM ZEBOLD USF Senior Writer