TAMPA, Fla. — Jahmal McMurray has supplied life to the South Florida Bulls.
McMurray, who returned from suspension December 3, has added swagger, energy, and production to a USF squad who fell to Elon and Florida Atlantic in November.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t enough this afternoon.
“We got a little bit complacent,” said McMurray. “We didn’t come out with the fire that we did in the first half. [In] the second half, we have to continue to complete a full game.”
Faced with nationally ranked South Carolina, the Bulls relinquished a six-point halftime lead and were defeated, 77-66. A 9-0 Gamecocks’ second-half run propelled the SEC powerhouse ahead to stay.
Both teams were sloppy initially. Four turnovers and multiple missed layups occurred before the first media timeout. Jahmal McMurray was the only person who appeared ready to play as he scored the first six USF points.
Redshirt freshman Tulio da Silva supplied four points, which gave Orlando Antigua’s team their first lead at the 12:58 mark.
South Carolina and USF traded baskets and leads until a 14-4 spurt rushed the Bulls to a 37-31 halftime lead. McMurray again fueled the Bulls, this time with eight points.
“Tonight they were falling just a little more than usual,” McMurray said of his performance. “My teammates were getting me open and hitting me in transition so I could make big plays. [They] were screening for me and all that other stuff. It is not just me. It’s my teammates too.”
In contrast to McMurray, South Carolina senior Duane Notice had one point on 0-for-8 shooting in the first half.
His struggles would evaporate.
Notice, who was 1-for-18 over his last three halves of basketball, swished his first field goal of the second half, a three-pointer. He also made his second attempt and third attempt, both of which were treys as well. The game was tied at 51.
“At Seton Hall the other night, he had some looks and they didn’t go down,” said South Carolina head coach Frank Martin of Notice. “I kind of jumped him a little bit — not jumped him in a bad way but kind of like, ‘You gotta make shots.’ And he kind of stressed himself out.
“With the whole suspension [of Sindarius Thornwell], he put a lot of responsibility on himself and he felt he let us down,” Martin continued. “At halftime, he hadn’t made any shots [and] I didn’t say a word to him [today]. On the contrast, I said, ‘Yo man, it’s alright, it’s alright. We need you to guard McMurray. Everything else is okay.’ And like good players, that ball finally went through the net for him.”
The senior’s third triple spurred nine unanswered for the 16th ranked team, landing them a six-point lead.
USF refused to allow the Gamecocks to fly away; a Geno Thorpe jumper and McMurray three-pointer positioned the Bulls within one, 57-56, with 9:08 remaining.
However, P.J. Dozier, who scored a team-high 23 points, exploded for 12 in the final 7:46. His twelve single-handedly outscored USF, 12-10, and flew the Gamecocks to victory.
The Bulls’ Jahmal McMurray finished with 20+ points for a third straight game. The sophomore had 25 points on 8-for-17 shooting and is now averaging 20.3 points per game through three contests. Freshman Malik Fitts contributed 12 points and 8 rebounds, his second consecutive performance in double-figures. Geno Thorpe was a rebound away from a double-double; he had 11 points and 9 rebounds.
P.J. Dozier again carried the scoring responsibility without senior Sindarius Thornwell. After 23 points this afternoon, the sophomore is averaging 21 points over his last four contests. Senior leader Duane Notice had 15 points and 4 assists while Maik Kotsar and Rakym Felder finished with 11 apiece. Felder’s point total was a career-high.
9-1 South Carolina will travel back home to face ACC foe Clemson and Lander before finishing non-conference play at Memphis. The status of Thornwell is still in the air.
“Nothing yet,” said Martin of whether anything had changed with his suspended star. “He’s a child, like my own son, and just like raising my own personal children, it pains me when I don’t let them do what they want to do
“I have a greater responsibility than winning games. I have to prepare these young guys to be men in life,” Martin stated. “He’s going to be fine. He is a big-time kid.”
5-4 USF will continue a four-game homestand on Tuesday versus Northern Illinois. College Court Report will supply full coverage from Tampa.
– P. Wesner