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Kohn's fingertips win nail-biter

With little more than a minute left, the score deadlocked at 69 and the season on the line, the basketball was in a most advantageous position for South Florida.

It was resting on the fingertips of Reggie Kohn's right hand, locked and loaded, ready to launch from behind the 3-point line.

The senior's seventh 3-pointer of the game broke the tie and propelled the Bulls to a 76-74 win over DePaul in the opening game of the Conference USA tournament at Freedom Hall.

"I was waiting on it," said Kohn, who finished one shy of the tournament and school record for 3s. "They were doubling (center) Will (McDonald), and he made the right read. You can make the shot or miss it, and I'm glad I made it."

Tenth-seeded USF (15-13) will play No. 2 Memphis (22-5) in a quarterfinal game at 1 today. DePaul (16-12) likely is headed to the NIT.

"Excluding our basketball family, no one thought we'd win. They wrote us off," said USF coach Seth Greenberg, whose team had lost at last-place TCU in the regular-season finale. "It was a great team win. We showed toughness, we showed sticktuitiveness. We've got some character on this team that people don't understand."

The go-ahead basket capped a sensational day for Kohn (game-high 23 points, 7-of-10 3-pointers, five assists) and a gritty comeback. USF had squandered a big early lead and then fought back from a six-point deficit in the last eight minutes.

After tying it at 63, the Bulls scored 13 in their final six possessions, excluding the final 3.1 seconds when they ran out the clock.

McDonald was superb down the stretch. From the left block, he effectively passed to open teammates (season-high four assists) or made jump shots.

"We just fed the big dog," Greenberg said of McDonald, who had 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting despite sitting 17 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. "He did a magnificent job passing out of the double team.

"Our guys had the patience and poise to wait for the shot they wanted."

With USF up 72-71 and 30 seconds to go, McDonald took a pass in his customary spot, squared up and hit a jumper to make it 74-71.

"I was thinking to let the clock run down a little, but I was really open and I knew that's a shot I can hit," McDonald said.

Brian Swift gave USF a 76-72 lead with two free throws and 13.5 seconds left, making him 29 of 30 from the line this season. Jimmy Baxter had 14 points and a team-high 11 rebounds, and Gerrick Morris had three blocks in the first half.

Kohn buried four 3-pointers in the opening 8:30 as USF stormed to a 23-7 lead.

DePaul stormed right back, slicing it to 25-24, and the Bulls led 43-37 at halftime.

USF stagnated against DePaul's man-to-man defense to open the second half, and a 15-5 run gave the Blue Demons a 52-48 lead. A dunk from Yusuf Baker (12 points, six rebounds), re-ignited USF, and back-to-back 3s by Danny Oglesby and Baxter tied it at 63 with 5:45 left, setting up the white-knuckle finish.

Kohn made 6-of-7 3-pointers in the first half and became the 15th USF player to eclipse 1,000 points in his career.

It was another feather in his record-setting career: He is the school's all-time leader in assists (628) and 3-pointers (251) and is C-USA's assists leader and third in 3s.

"He knows how to make big plays," DePaul coach Dave Leitao said of Kohn.

USF split with No. 18-ranked Memphis this season, winning its lone road game of the season at the Pyramid but losing 73-66 at the Sun Dome. USF has won three straight opening games in the league tournament, all nail-biters. However, USF, in its eighth season C-USA, never has won two games in the tournament.

"We didn't come to win one game," Greenberg said.