South Florida coach Stan Heath was confident his stingy defense could contain the Syracuse Orange.
He was hoping for a little more out of his offense.
The Bulls (17-11, 10-5 Big East) went 12:33 without scoring a point in a 56-48 loss to the No. 2 Orange (28-1, 15-1) on Wednesday night. It was an all-too-familiar outcome for a team that can boast having the Big East's stingiest defense (allowing 58.2 points a game) and, yet, also have an offense that came into the game averaging a conference-low 61.1 points.
"We're not the highest-scoring team in the country. We've built our team around our defense," Heath said. "But that kind of a lull offensively, yeah, like, 'C'mon guys, we've got to do it.' But I don't get down on my guys especially when they're trying and giving a great effort."
Anthony Collins led the Bulls with 12 points and added 10 assists, but also turned the ball over eight times. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick scored 11 and added seven rebounds for South Florida, which had a four-game win streak snapped and lost consecutive Big East games for the first time this season.
After hitting eight of their first 11 shots to build a 20-7 lead, the Bulls missed their next 13 attempts, falling behind 33-20 after Scoop Jardine scored 2:05 into the second half.
"I loved the way we started out. We couldn't have written a better script," Heath said. "But you knew. They're so good, they were going to make a run. You just hoped it wasn't as long."
South Florida's Hugh Robertson finally scored on a layup 2:23 into the second half after Collins forced a turnover.
Despite their drought, the Bulls recovered in time to mount a comeback. After trailing by 14 points, South Florida cut the lead to 47-46 with 6:25 left, when Collins hit a 10-footer. They failed to capitalize on their next two possessions, which finished with a turnover by Collins, and Fitzpatrick missing a 3-point attempt.
The Orange finally responded with Jardine getting fouled while scoring on a drive to the basket, and then completed the three-point play with 4:41 left.
"I like the way we were in the locker room, we were disappointed," Heath said. "We thought we just let it get away. We didn't think we played our 'A' game. Too many sloppy turnovers."
Jardine scored 15 points for the Orange (28-1, 15-1 Big East), who overcame an ice-cold start in which they missed 12 of their first 14 shots, and overcame a 13-point deficit for their eighth straight win. Syracuse matched school records for most regular-season and conference victories — both set in 2009-10.
Kris Joseph scored four of his 12 points over the final 4 minutes on putbacks of his own misses, helping him finish with nine rebounds. C.J. Fair had 13 points for Syracuse.
"Offensively, it's been a struggle shooting the basketball, and tonight was one of those nights," coach Jim Boeheim said. "But we've been in games like this all year. Our veteran guys have made plays all year down the stretch. That's how you win."
Down 24-20 at halftime, South Florida held an opponent under 30 points in the first half for the 24th time in 28 games. And yet it was their lack of offense that cost the Bulls, who finished 20 of 52 from the field.
The Orange forced 18 turnovers and had a 41-31 edge in rebounding.
"We don't panic. We don't lose our confidence, no matter how much we might be struggling," Joseph said. "We have a lot of guys who can make plays and we believe it's all going to turn out right in the end."
This marked only the second time this season the Orange trailed by double digits. And the only other time that happened came in a 67-58 loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 21.
The Orange wore their one-time only Nike-designed uniforms, designated for teams who have won a national title. The jerseys were gray — officially, platinum — with an orange stripe down each side.