Real points were hard enough to come by.
“I want to play a fast-paced game with this team,” said Auburn coach Tony Barbee. “I want to score in the 80’s every night, but it’s not going to be a pretty, transition game every night. You have to understand how to win what I call a grind-out game. This was a grind-out game. Who is going to stop who, who is going to keep who off the glass. I’m proud of the way we defended.”
Chris Denson and Frankie Sullivan led the Tigers with 12 points each.
Leading by two with 13:40 to play, the Tigers (5-1) went on a 14-3 run over the next seven minutes to take control of the game.
South Florida (6-5) never threatened after that.
Auburn shot 41 percent from the field to 33.3 percent for the Bulls and outrebounded South Florida 34-26.
The biggest difference came at the free throw line. Auburn made 15 of 18 to South Florida’s eight of 16.
“The guys responded,” Barbee said. “We made free throws. We made plays, made shots when we needed them.”
Auburn led 21-20 at the half, with both teams struggling offensively, particularly from 3-point range.
The Bulls were 2-for-10 beyond the arc, while the Tigers were 1-for-6 and both teams shot less than 40 percent from the field.
Auburn’s normal backcourt tandem of Sullivan and Varez Ward did not start the game.
“They’ve been hurt and haven’t practiced,” Barbee said. “So they guys who were at practice earned the right to start. It was nothing more than that.”
Denson and Josh Wallace started in their place.
Auburn was off for 11 days, which showed in the first half.
“You could see that game sharpness that you lose when you haven’t played in that many days,” Barbee said. “But I like the way we responded. We didn’t let the lac of offense in the first 10 minutes bury us.
Wednesday’s game begins a stretch that will see the Tigers play seven games between now and the end of the year.
The Tigers play host to North Florida on Friday and Florida A&M on Sunday. Auburn will play in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, before returning home to face Georgia Southern on Dec. 30.