Shocker basketball falters in 2nd half at USF; WSU losing streak reaches 7 games

A complete game continues to evade the Wichita State men’s basketball team.

The Shockers flew to the Sunshine State in search of their first American Athletic Conference win, but will instead head home with the program’s longest losing streak since the 2000-01 season.

Wichita State suffered a 72-68 setback to South Florida at Yuengling Center on Sunday afternoon, as the team once again unraveled in the second half with a disastrous stretch to cement a seventh straight loss.

“It seems like the little stuff comes back to haunt us in these games,” WSU guard Xavier Bell said. “We gave (USF) too many extra opportunities and we ended up only losing by four, so we’ve got to tighten up on that.”

WSU has made it a bad habit lately to follow up a well-played first half with a mistake-filled opening after halftime.

The Shockers went toe-for-toe with a pair of ranked teams, nearly playing Memphis even and taking an 11-point halftime lead at Florida Atlantic, but were blitzed in the first 10 minutes of the second half: being out-scored 39-20 against Memphis and 27-19 against FAU.

Sunday was another painful chapter: WSU led for the majority of the first half and led 35-32 at halftime, but gave up a 16-0 run not long after halftime to allow the Bulls to seize control of the game.

“We need to string games together and get better consistency,” WSU head coach Paul Mills said. “That’s going to come down to us getting in the gym.”

WSU managed to claw back to within a single score down the stretch, but it was USF that made the winnings plays — not the Shockers. As a result, USF beat WSU for just the second time in 11 tries since becoming conference members.

That’s how life has been going lately for each program under first-year leadership: Amir Abdur-Rahim has guided USF (11-5, 4-1 AAC) to nine wins in its last 10 games, while Mills and the Shockers (8-10, 0-5 AAC) have stumbled to nine losses in their last 10 games.

“We’ve got to be more disciplined on the little stuff,” WSU leading scorer Colby Rogers said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, but we still had a chance to win the game. Shooting will come and go, so we’ve got to be better at those little things.”

Five consecutive turnovers started a string of 10 straight empty possessions, which helped fuel USF’s 16-0 run to flip a four-point lead for WSU to a 53-41 deficit. The stretch included a bad pass in transition to botch a potential score, a shot-clock violation, a pair of unforced turnovers by point guard Bijan Cortes in less than 20 seconds followed by five straight 3-point misses and a pair of missed free throws.

The Shockers nearly erased a double-digit deficit, thanks to a rare six-point possession. The play began when Kenny Pohto (12 points, four rebounds) pump-faked underneath to score a layup while being fouled from behind by USF’s Chris Youngblood. After official review, the foul was upgraded to a flagrant. Pohto made two free throws, then Rogers (11 points, three assists) cashed in on the extra opportunity with a pull-up jumper.

In total, WSU scored six points in a total of six seconds to trim an 11-point deficit to 58-53 with 7 minutes, 44 seconds remaining.

After Rogers scored in transition to cut the deficit to 64-61, the Shockers had three straight chances to cut into the lead. A runner from Bell was halfway down before rattling out, as was a 3-pointer by Rogers, who went a chilly 1-for-8 beyond the arc, then Harlond Beverly (15 points, six rebounds) missed from point-blank range.

WSU finished a season-high 68% of its 2-pointers, but shot a season-low 10.5% on 3-pointers (2 of 19). With 14 more turnovers (21% turnover rate) on Sunday, WSU has wasted at least 19% of its possessions on turnovers in all seven games during its losing streak.

“I thought we had good shots, they just missed. You can’t fault guys for getting those kind of shots,” Mills said. “Early on, I thought some of those (3-point) shots were hitting the front of the rim and basically starting fast breaks for (USF).

“And then it’s unforced turnovers. You can understand when guys are being aggressive, but it’s the dribbling turnovers, getting squeezed off a side pick-and-roll when you know you’re not supposed to be there. Those are the things that can’t happen.”

Bell twice brought WSU within two points in the closing moments, but both times WSU’s defense failed to register a stand. Kobe Knox scored an uncontested layup for a 68-64 lead, then Kasean Pryor (game-high 25 points on 11-of-11 foul shooting) answered with a free-throw line jumper for a 70-66 lead.

Beverly scored quickly to keep WSU in it, as his layup with 8.6 seconds left made it 70-68, but WSU couldn’t squeeze USF for a steal and resorted to fouling Pryor with 3.9 seconds left. The 6-foot-10 big man, who has scored 75 points and made 35 of 38 free throws in his last three games, made both to secure the win for the Bulls.

WSU’s defense held USF to 40% shooting from the field and 24% on 3-pointers, including limiting leading scorer Selton Miguel to four points and without a 3-pointer.

“Defense is going to be what’s going to keep us in it and we need to be better there,” Mills said. “The shooting inconsistency is what it is. We’ve known that going into the year. But we’ve got to be really good defensively in order to give ourselves a chance.”