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USF men pick up first AAC victory

The Bulls hold off a late Tulane surge for an 80-75 triumph
 
Published Jan. 26, 2018|Updated Jan. 26, 2018

Even after a dreadful start in American Athletic Conference play, USF's men's basketball team recently has shown tangible signs of a pulse.

Thursday night, it held steady for the better part of 40 minutes. As a result, the Bulls finally have a conference victory.

Buoyed by graduate transfer PG Stephan Jiggetts, who hit two critical free throws with 15 seconds to play and followed with a game-clinching midcourt steal, USF held off a furious Tulane rally to escape Devlin Fieldhouse with an 80-75 road victory.

The triumph, USF's first in league play, snapped a seven-game losing streak dating to Dec. 28. The Bulls (8-13, 1-7 AAC) had not won a game outside Florida since an 80-74 victory at Troy on Dec. 1, 2016, and hadn't won a conference road game since a 69-52 win at East Carolina on Feb. 15, 2016.

"We did a lot of good things. Give our guys a ton of credit," first-year coach Brian Gregory said on USF's official radio broadcast. "We talk about some of the building blocks we've got to have, and we said whenever you're in the situation we're in, resiliency is a great characteristic to have."

Playing all 40 minutes, Jiggetts finished with 23 points and five assists in a turnover-free performance. Providing double-doubles were fellow graduate transfers Terrence Samuel (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Payton Banks (14 points, 10 boards). Samuel added two free throws with 9.2 seconds to play to help seal things.

"I thought (Jiggetts) was in complete control the whole game," Gregory said.

With several of Gregory's family members in attendance, the Bulls built a nine-point halftime advantage and led by as many as 23 in the second half before Tulane stormed back.

USF shot 49 percent (24-of-49) from the floor and 42.9 percent (9-of-21) from 3-point range. Defensively, the Bulls finished with a 42-33 rebounding advantage and forced the Green Wave into a miserable shooting night until their late surge.

Tulane finished 9-of-28 from 3-point range, but was 2-of-16 at one point.

"Is this the turning point? Was this a breakthrough? I don't know," Gregory said. "But I know one thing: Our guys kept fighting. We played pretty well on Saturday (a 71-69 loss to UCF), didn't get (the win). Could've easily dropped their heads, but they went back to work."