A Friday night in Tampa turned out not to be the fun little adventure that most Auburn fans thought it would be, but the kind of learning experience that can pay dividends down the road. The Tigers escaped a fiesty and tough USF Bulls team for a 58-52 win after trailing by 15 points in the first half. After finding little help from the starters, the Tigers relied on K.D. Johnson to lead the way with 15 points off the bench, and he ended up leading the Tigers in scoring on the night.
Auburn had to contend with the duo of Javon Greene and Caleb Murphy for USF, who combined for 34 of the Bulls’ 52 points, but it was Johnson and Jaylin Williams off the bench who paced the Tigers.
This game did not start out the way Auburn may have expected, with USF jumping out to a 9-0 lead with four different players scoring buckets to open the game. The Tigers finally got on the board on a three from K.D. Johnson, who would turn out to be the most reliable player on the court for Auburn tonight. Auburn fell behind by 10 points by the under-12 timeout after a Sam Hines jumper for the Bulls, and the Tigers had only 6 points at the midway spot in the first half. A Jabari Smith three pulled Auburn out of a stretch of more than four minutes without a field goal, but it was immediately answered by a USF three from Javon Greene to give the Bulls a 21-9 edge. They built their largest lead at 25-10 at the 5:26 mark of the first half before Auburn went on their first run. The Tigers strung together 10 points in a row to cut the lead to 5, and at the half trailed 33-26 as a Jaylin Williams jumper fell as the first half clock ran out.
Out of the intermission, Auburn finally found a little more offensive footing and cut into the USF advantage. After falling behind by 9 points early on in the second half, the Tigers got dunks by Jaylin Williams and Devan Cambridge before K.D. Johnson back-to-back layups to pull Auburn within a point at 40-39 USF. Eighty seconds later, Jabari Smith’s second three fell to give Auburn a 42-40 edge and their first lead of the night with 9:52 to play. Minutes later a dunk by Cambridge and a three by Johnson pushed the Tiger lead to 7 points at 52-45. USF pulled within a bucket late on a Javon Greene three, but free throws by Zep Jasper and K.D. Johnson down the final stretch clinched the comeback win for Auburn.
Auburn will play UConn on Wednesday at 1:30 pm CST at the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Huskies are ranked 23rd, setting up a huge game to begin the event in the Bahamas.