If you heard a thud coming from the Sun Dome on Wednesday night, it was the USF men's basketball team hitting rock bottom in a dreary performance against Villanova.
Not much went right for the Bulls in the first half of what would become a disheartening 61-53 loss to the Wildcats, which dropped USF to 0-2 in the Big East.
The Bulls (9-5) showed promise in a brilliant first half against No. 7 Syracuse on Sunday, but none of that carried over to Wednesday night. Villanova, a team that has 18- and 15-point home losses to Columbia and Temple, respectively, on its résumé, overpowered the Bulls from the start.
By halftime, USF trailed 34-20 on the scoreboard. The deficit felt larger than 14 points because the Bulls were almost non-competitive.
Key statistical categories painted an ugly picture in the first half. USF was outrebounded 26-15, shot 9 percentage points lower from the field and was outscored in the paint 18-4.
"The first five or six minutes decided the game, I think," forward Victor Rudd said.
A brighter second half gave USF some hope. The rebounding trend reversed for most of the half, with USF outrebounding Villanova 17-16. The Bulls tried to rally, inching closer and closer, but every positive step for USF saw Villanova take an even larger one shortly after.
Rudd knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing to cut the deficit to 49-41 with 7:04 remaining, but easy back-to-back scores under the basket stretched the Villanova (11-4) lead back to 12. The Bulls never threatened again, with the Wildcats winning their seventh straight game and improving to 2-0 in the Big East.
"We made some runs, and it seemed like we had some chances, but every time it looked like we had a chance to get the crowd going, it seemed like the old block-charge call was going against us," USF coach Stan Heath said. "Give their bigs credit. Villanova's bigs dominated the game tonight. They scored inside, they rebounded, they got second shots and third shots and we just did not have an answer against that size and strength they had."
Rudd led three Bulls in double-figures with 12 points, but shot just 3-for-11 from the field.
Wildcats forward Mouphtaou Yarou starred with 16 points and 13 rebounds — both game-highs — in what Villanova coach Jay Wright called an "amazing" performance. Daniel Ochefu, making his first start of the season, scored eight of Villanova's first 17 points to bury USF early. He finished with 12 points.
"The two of them (Yarou and Ochefu) just started the game and set the tone good for us," Wright said. "The start was helpful for us before they could get into a rhythm. They're a dangerous team if you get behind them. We know."
The loss snapped a four-game win streak over Villanova, including three wins against the Wildcats last year alone.
"The energy of the team, for 40 minutes, was not there tonight and I'm not used to that with our basketball team," Heath said. "It hasn't been that way in a long time and it's something I won't accept and I won't tolerate."
Even the final score, 61-53, looked closer than the game actually was, courtesy of a miraculous buzzer-beating half-court heave from guard JaVontae Hawkins.
Already at 0-2 in the Big East standings, the road doesn't get easier for USF, with a visit to No. 3 Louisville looming Saturday to open a two-game road swing that will also send the Bulls to Rutgers.
There's a lot of room for improvement.
"We've got to find a way to put enough strength in rebounding to hold our own there, but we've got to have some scoring too," Heath said.
"We're shooting in the (30 percent range) and that's not good enough."