TAMPA —The University of South Florida Bulls are now sharing a conference with the No. 18-ranked Memphis Tigers. But if Tuesday night’s debacle at the Sun Dome was any indication, Memphis remains in another league.
Memphis 88, USF 73.
“Memphis is one of the elite teams in our conference,’’ USF coach Stan Heath said. “We hadn’t seen that kind of speed from the guards. We knew it was going to be a battle. If you don’t hold your ground against them, if you bend, if you bend a little more … it’s a problem.’’
The Bulls (9-5, 0-1), playing their fourth consecutive game without injured point guard Anthony Collins, need some quick results in the New Year after dropping their American Athletic Conference opener and losing for the third time in their last four games.
“I’m actually glad we played a game like this (level of difficulty),’’ USF senior forward Victor Rudd said. “It showed everybody that (the AAC games) ain’t going to be easy.’’
The 15-point margin was deceptive because Memphis (10-2, 1-0) had stretched the lead to 29 before a late USF surge. The Tigers came at USF in waves, dominating the transition game, playing way above the rim, making it look easy at times.
The Tigers, who shot 52.4 percent overall from the field, essentially put the game away with a 17-2 first-half run that turned a close game into a rout.
USF couldn’t buy a bucket, going nearly 11 minutes with just one made field goal, as the margin slipped away.
The Bulls were paced by freshman center John Egbunu, who had 20 points, 14 rebounds and six dunks. He was the only one with a notable night. Rudd nearly had a double-double (17 points, nine rebounds), but he was just 3-for-13 from the field.
The first-half microcosm?
After USF’s Corey Allen Jr., hit a pair of free throws, the inbound pass went to Memphis senior Joe Jackson. He brought it coast-to-coast, weaving through four indifferent USF defenders and slamming home a dunk just before the halftime buzzer, putting the Tigers up 48-32.
“That shouldn’t happen,’’ Heath said. “We had an extra defender (because Memphis was inbounding after a made free throw) and we still didn’t stop him. Terrible defense.’’
Offensively, USF shot 42.3 percent, but was 0-for-9 from 3-point range, marking the first time the Bulls failed to make a trey since March 9, 2010 (Georgetown in the Big East Tournament). Meanwhile, Memphis tied its season high by converting eight of 19 attempts from 3-point range.
The home crowd, which was announced at 4,063 and cleared out early for New Year’s Eve festivities, made some late noise when 7-foot-3, 334-pound cult hero, Jordan Omogbehin, had two rebounds, drew an offensive foul and slammed home a dunk in the final two minutes.
But Egbunu’s effort, described as “inspiring’’ by Heath, was USF’s clear highlight.
“I just wanted to keep playing hard, no matter what the score was,’’ Egbunu said.
“I got kind of down when we got down by a lot (of points), but John picked me back up,’’ Rudd said.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he was impressed by Egbunu and fellow freshman Chris Perry, although the reigning AAC Rookie of the Week did not attempt a field goal in 13 minutes, while grabbing just one rebound and picking up four fouls.
“That’s a very, very impressive front line,’’ Pastner said. “South Florida is going to win a lot of games in this league. And it’s a good league, man.’’
Pastner acknowledged that USF was hampered by the loss of Collins, a subject that has become wearying old news for the Bulls.
Heath said Collins, with tendinitis in his left knee, also is doubtful for Saturday’s home AAC game against the Houston Cougars. He’s not sure when – or if – Collins will become available. He said his son, Tampa Prep freshman Josh Heath, might eventually be forced into the rotation to ruin the plans for a redshirt season.
“That’s on the table,’’ Heath said. “But not tonight. It wouldn’t have been fair to put him in there against Memphis. His father wouldn’t have liked that. His mother, too.’’
MEMPHIS (10-2) — Goodwin 2-3 0-1 5, Nichols 3-5 1-2 7, Jackson 4-7 9-10 18, C. Crawford 2-10 0-0 6, Johnson 8-13 1-2 19, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, King 0-2 0-2 0, Dixon Jr. 7-10 2-2 18, Pellom 5-7 0-1 10, Woodson 1-3 1-2 3, Iverson 1-3 0-0 2, Draper 0-0 0-0 0, Cole 0-0 0-0 0, McDowell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-63 14-22 88.
SOUTH FLORIDA (9-5) — Rudd 3-13 11-16 17, Perry 0-0 0-0 0, Egbunu 7-11 6-8 20, Allen Jr. 4-9 7-9 15, McLendon 2-2 0-2 4, Brock 4-9 5-6 13, Abdul-Aleem 0-5 0-0 0, LeDay 1-2 0-0 2, Omogbehin 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 22-52 29-41 73.
Halftime—Memphis 48-32. 3-Point Goals—Memphis 8-19 (Johnson 2-3, Dixon Jr. 2-5, C. Crawford 2-6, Goodwin 1-1, Jackson 1-2, Iverson 0-1, King 0-1), South Florida 0-9 (Allen Jr. 0-1, Rudd 0-3, Abdul-Aleem 0-5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Memphis 39 (Goodwin 8), South Florida 34 (Egbunu 14). Assists—Memphis 18 (Dixon 5), South Florida 10 (Rudd 3). Total Fouls—Memphis 30, South Florida 17. A—4,063.