K.D. Johnson scored 15 points, Zep Jasper added 13 and No. 21 Auburn rallied to beat South Florida 58-52 on Friday night.
Jabari Smith hit a 3-pointer 10 minutes into the second half during a 15-0 stretch that gave Auburn (3-0) its first lead at 42-40. It was the third made 3-pointer by Auburn in 21 tries to that point.
Jaylin Williams and Devan Cambridge had consecutive slams 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.”
Caleb Murphy scored 19 points and Javon Greene added 15 for South Florida (2-2), which was coming off a 56-54 comeback win over North Carolina A&T on Monday.
“I thought it was going to be a battle,” USF 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.”
Smith, a standout freshman coming off his first career double-double in a win over Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 12, had nine points and 10 rebounds.
“Jabari is such a talented player,” Pearl said. “He lets the game come to him. He’s not afraid of the moment.”
Greene hit a 3 to pull USF within 55-52 with 2:30 remaining, but Sam Hines Jr. missed two free throws in the final minute.
Jasper made it 57-52 by making a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left.
Murphy had 11 points as USF took a 33-26 halftime lead.
The Bulls scored the first nine points and led 25-10 before Auburn put together a 10-0 run.
Auburn had five of its nine first-half turnovers in the opening five minutes and was scoreless until Johnson connected on a 3 with 14:43 left.
Auburn: The Tigers were behind at halftime for a second straight game. Auburn trailed Louisiana-Monroe by two but ended up winning 93-65.
“It wasn’t about chewing them out,” Pearl said about his talk during the break. “We talked about things that we thought could be open offensively and we did a little bit better job with that in the second half.”
USF: The Bulls are building consistency with a roster that had lots of offseason turnover. USF added 10 new players, with eight transfers and two freshmen. The seven Division-I transfers and eight total transfers are tied for the most this season among D-I teams.
“Each game we play we feel better and more comfortable,” Greene said.
Auburn ended up 5 for 26 (19.2%) from 3-point range. Auburn outscored USF 19-4 in fast-break points.
WE’LL BE BACK
The game was played off the USF campus in downtown Tampa at Amalie Arena. Auburn will return there in March for the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Auburn: Opens play at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas Wednesday against No. 23 UConn.
USF: Hosts Hampton on Wednesday night.