"I am just proud of the guys the way we defended," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. His Tigers improved to 5-1 after a layoff of 12 days when they suffered their first loss of the season with a disappointing road performance at Seton Hall.
"I like the way we responded," said Barbee, whose team got off to a slow start offensively at the Auburn Arena. "We didn't let our lack of offense in that first 10 minutes bury us.
"We still guarded, we still rebounded," he said. "We kept them off the offensive glass because they are a great offensive rebounding team so that gave us a chance. When we did find some offense we weren't that far behind so we could get right back in the game.
"That is what we have been working on," Barbee added. "I am proud of the guys the way they responded. We had some tough practices after some time off. What we worked on over the course of that time came into play."
Chris Denson, making his first start of the season, and Frankie Sullivan led the Tigers in scoring with 12 points apiece. Varez Ward added 11 points and six rebounds while Kenny Gabriel led the Tigers in rebounds with eight and scored seven points.
Auburn hit 41.5 percent of its field goals, but made 83.3 percent of its free throws (15-18) while the Bulldogs made just 8-16 at the foul line.
The three-point shooting was a struggle for both teams. The Bulls hit 4-18 treys while Auburn made 3-14 as a crowd of 4,436 watched the second half of a doubleheader. The Auburn women defeated South Florida in the first contest.
The 40 points the Bulls scored against Barbee's team is the lowest total allowed by the Tigers since December 2008 vs. Alabama A&M. The win also gave Auburn its best six-game record in seven years.
Barbee said the Tigers wanted to make the game up-tempo, but South Florida did a good job of slowing the pace.
"You have to understand how to win what I call a grind-out game," Barbee said. "This was a half-court game of is going to stop who, who is going to make the plays, who is going to keep who off the glass. I am proud of the way we defended for the entire game holding that team to 33.3 percent. I am proud of the way we blocked them out because we really, really worked on it."
Denson said the Tigers played much better defensively than they did vs. Seton Hall in their previous game. "Against Seton Hall I think we were just too timid,"?he said. "Being back home, we feel at home. We were hyped up from the loss."
Frankie Sullivan scores on a layup.
USF jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but neither team got hot offensively in the first half and the Tigers managed to take a 22-20 lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the second half the Tigers steadily built the lead into double figures. The Tigers got there with 7:34 to play when Sullivan nailed a wide open three-pointer and Denson followed with an inside basket to make the score 45-32.
The visitors made just 14-42 field goals and had just six assists vs. 14 turnovers. "It was a very frustrating night," South Florida coach Stan Heath said. "It looked like we were ready to go. We came out of the gate strong."
August Gilchrist led USF in scoring with 10 points, but did not score in the second half. Auburn held USF to just 26.3 percent shooting in the second half on the way to the victory.
Barbee said that Ward and Sullivan had missed practice recuperating from previous surgeries that have left them less than full speed.
At the Break: Auburn trailed the entire first half until the final 31 seconds and went into the locker room up 21-10. USF's largest lead was 7-0 to open the game.
Auburn made 8-22 field goals, 1-6 threes and 4-4 free throws in the first half and out-rebounded the Bulls 17-13. Auburn turned the ball over eight times and had four assists. Ward led the Tigers with seven points and Denson added six.
The Bulls hit 9-23 field goals and 2-10 threes and were 0-3 on free throws. They had seven turnovers and five assists. Gilchrist scored half of his team's first half points.
Rob Chubb: The junior center got off to a hot start this year, but has struggled in recent games. He finished with six points and six rebounds. Barbee said the coaches are going to work on building his confidence against double-teams in the posts to cut down on his mistakes. He had five of Auburn's 14 turnovers on Wednesday night.
Still On Hold: Noel Johnson was scheduled to make his Auburn debut on Wednesday night, but the transfer from Clemson was held out of the game due to a wrist injury. Barbee said to expected th 6-7 guard in the lineup in the near future.
Up Next: The Tigers will play at 7 p.m. on Saturday at home vs. Florida A&M.