Centers held scoreless as USF loses 61-49

JEFF LATZKE AP Sports Writer Published:

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- The kind of interior presence that No. 23 Oklahoma State unexpectedly got from Philip Jurick left South Florida coach Stan Heath wishing he could get the same kind of performance from any of his three centers.

Until he does, Heath expects to keep juggling his lineups and waiting for it to happen.

Marcus Smart scored 15 points, Jurick grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds and the Cowboys dominated the boards to beat South Florida 61-49 on Wednesday night.

Jurick led the way as the Cowboys (6-1) held a 41-28 rebounding edge, turning it into a 19-7 advantage in second-chance points.

In looking over the box score, Heath saw that his group of three centers combined for no points and five rebounds.

"I'm looking for somebody at that five position to give me something," Heath said. "Give me something. That's kind of where we are right now."

Victor Rudd had 14 points and Anthony Collins scored 12 for South Florida (5-3). The Bulls were held to a season-worst 34 percent shooting and had their lowest scoring game of the season.

Smart, the Cowboys' playmaking freshman, nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing to launch a 16-5 run that put Oklahoma State in control in the second half. He finished it off by hitting another 3, then making a quick steal in the backcourt before setting up Markel Brown's layup for a 48-34 lead with 7:29 remaining.

The Bulls couldn't get closer than nine points after that.

"The lack of probably an interior game is haunting us a little bit," Heath said. "When you have a stretch like that where you don't score, you want to throw the ball inside and we just don't have that presence right now."

The Bulls had gone with different starting lineups for the first seven games this season, but doubled up for the first time. Heath said not to expect any stability as he continues to wait for someone to emerge from a center group that includes Kore White, Jordan Omogbehin and Zach LeDay.

The Cowboys' two centers, Jurick and Michael Cobbins, combined for 13 points and 16 rebounds.

"That was a huge difference in the game. ... It's something we've got to get better at," Heath said.

Jurick, who recovered from an Achilles tendon injury at the end of last season, hadn't had more than eight rebounds in a game this season or more than 11 during his career.

When he sprung up quickly to grab a missed shot and slammed it down all in one motion, it was a sign of how far he's come in a short time.

"I've never seen him get that high before. I didn't know he could jump that high," said Brown, who scored 13 points. "I don't know what got into him on that play."

Jurick, who has lost 25 pounds, said he's been driven by his injury rehab and by the Cowboys' chances to be a special team this season. They're ranked for the first time since 2007.

"I felt pretty good," he said. "Coach told me before the game, 'Just be more confident on the offensive end.' I think that goes a long ways."

Coach Travis Ford said that encouragement has been a point of emphasis with the 6-foot-11 senior.

"He does lack in confidence. We believe in him more than he believes in himself," Ford said. "We challenged him as far as rebounding, how to rebound and what type of rebounds we need from him, and he responded.

"When we can get a performance from a big man like that, because we've got some of the best guards in the country, I believe, then that just helps our team be that much better."

Le'Bryan Nash, the Cowboys' leading scorer with a 19-point average, ran into some minor foul trouble and had only six points -- four coming on free throws in the final 2 minutes.

Nash, who had scored in double digits in 15 consecutive games dating to last season, attempted just four shots.

The missing offense didn't matter nearly as much with Oklahoma State's defense returning to form after Virginia Tech shot 50 percent in the second half while beating the Cowboys 81-71 on Saturday. That amounted to 16 more points than any other opponent had scored against OSU this season.

The Cowboys clamped down, limiting South Florida to two baskets over the final 12 minutes of the first half but still led only 24-22 when Shaun Noriega made a 3-pointer to start the second half for the Bulls.

Oklahoma State had an answer every time the Bulls pulled within a basket, and Smart finally sparked the run that put it away.

Jurick's slam, off Smart's missed 3-pointer, made it 50-35.

USF has scored less than 60 points in all three of its losses this season, and won each time it surpassed that mark.

"If you go in somebody's backyard and you hold them to 40 percent shooting, 31 from 3, you have a legitimate chance to win," Heath said. "You've just got to score the ball a lot better. Your offense has got to come to the table too.

"A lot of times teams go on the road and they don't bring their defense. We brought our defense, so I was pleased with that."