TAMPA — USF took it to No. 21 Auburn in the first half Friday at Amalie Arena, leading by as much 15 points.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, a second half loomed.
K.D. Johnson scored 15, Zep Jasper added 13 and the Tigers used a 15-0 run to defeat the Bulls 58-52.
USF (2-2) began the game on a 9-0 burst and led 25-10 after a Caleb Murphy jumper with 5:26 left in the half.
Auburn (3-0) had five of its nine first-half turnovers in the opening five minutes and was scoreless until Johnson made a 3 with 14:43 left. The Tigers, aided by a 10-0 run, cut the deficit to 33-26 at halftime.
Freshman Jabari Smith hit a 3-pointer 10 minutes into the second half for Auburn during its 15-0 stretch, giving the Tigers their first lead at 42-40.
Jaylin Williams and Devan Cambridge had consecutive dunks to start the run, with USF leading 40-31. Johnson had two layups, including one after a nifty steal, that helped the Tigers go up 46-40.
“K.D. is important to us,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “K.D. has got the ability to do things against the best players on our schedule. He’s got that level, and we needed some of that tonight. I want more and more from him as the season goes on. He’s a dangerous man out there.”
Murphy scored a game-high 19, and Javon Greene added 15 for the Bulls (2-2), coming off a 56-54 comeback win over North Carolina A&T on Monday.
“I thought it was going to be a battle,” coach Brian Gregory said. “I thought if we went out there and played with some fight, which I thought we did, we’d be able to compete, and we proved that we could do that. We’re just not quite good enough yet to win that game.”
Greene hit a 3 to pull USF within 55-52 with 2:30 left, but Sam Hines missed two free throws in the final minute. Jasper made it 57-52 with a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left.
USF continues to improve on its cohesiveness after adding 10 new players, with eight transfers and two freshmen. The seven Division I transfers and eight total are tied for the most this season among D-I teams. “Each game we play we feel better and more comfortable,” Greene said.
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