South Florida Dismisses FAU in Important AAC Matchup

Ken Cross

February 20, 2024 at 10:20 pm.

TAMPA, Fla. – The South Florida Bulls have been one of the top stories in college basketball this season and their novel turned another page on Sunday when the Bulls drove past Florida Atlantic, 90-86, in Yuengling Center.

The win put the Bulls up two in the loss column on FAU in the AAC and left them one game ahead of Charlotte, which defeated Wichita State, 81-70, in other AAC action, also on Sunday.

South Florida has now won 11 in a row and 16 out of its last 17 games in Coach Amir Abdur-Rahim’s first season in Tampa.

The experience of guards Selton Miguel and Chris Youngblood was massive throughout the game. Miguel led all scorers with 25 points, while Youngblood started by making three triples in the first eight minutes and posting 23 points.

“These two dudes that were sitting here a second ago, I feel good when we are going out there knowing I have got two hired guns and I say that with all respect,” commented Bulls head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim after the game. “Any time I hear a ball bouncing in our gym, it’s one of the two.”

Miguel caught fire in the last five minutes of the first half as he hit three triples, and scored eight consecutive points to give USF a 46-29 lead just 2:12 before halftime. In the first half, Miguel was 6-of-6 from the field which included four three-point field goals.

“We are more of an old team, so we have guys who have been through it already – college rivalries,” said Miguel. “We have come together and really understand the game. Sometimes when we are up, then we might just go rest. We NEVER rest.”

Youngblood scored eight points in the first 4:58 of the game as the Bulls took a 13-4 lead. He hit his third three of the early first half off the right wing to give the Bulls a 16-9 lead with 11:52 to play.

In addition to starting 6-of-12 from the floor with four triples, the Bulls’ defense in the early going was front row and center as well.

They knew FAU shot 37 percent from three on the season, so South Florida took their quickness and athleticism and matched FAU by picking the Owls up high in their offense from the beginning. USF held them to 11-of-28 in the first half with only three triples, as South Florida led the Owls, 46-31, at halftime.

“I thought defensively is where we set the tone because where they make you look really bad is in transition,” commented Abdur-Rahim. “We put a big emphasis on our transition defense.”

South Florida outscored Florida Atlantic, 15-12, in transition although in the end, the Owls countered with a 42-28 advantage in the paint.

“If we can get our transition defense intact and set the table and make them play against our half-court defense …,” said Abdur-Rahim. “They’re good, Man; they’re good.”

FAU head coach Dusty May talked about the number of people that this matchup and the game itself included.

“This game is great for college basketball, for our league, for the state of Florida,” he said. “As far as who we are playing. I think we have been on national television 12-15 times this season. I think this is going to end up being a healthy rivalry.”

Pushing the lead: USF kept pushing its lead early in the second half as the Bulls outscored, FAU, 20-10, over the first 7:10 of the half.

Youngblood hit another triple before Kasean Pryor took an alley-oop pass from Jayden Reid for a slam dunk. The Bulls built the 66-41 lead to 70-45 when Reid buried a jumper from the top of the key with 8:38 remaining in the game.

“It’s preparation and it’s sharing the ball,” said Abdur-Rahim. “We won that game because we had 12 assists on 27 made baskets, but we only turned it over eight times. When you can get shots at the basket with a group of guys that really work hard, then things are going to go pretty good.”

The Owls in Flight: From that point, FAU fashioned a 15-0 run that gave them momentum as guard Johnell Davis made two free throws to cut the score to 70-60 with 6:59 remaining.

Vladislav Goldin scored six of his 23 points in that run as he found shots in the lane as well as getting to the line. The key for Goldin was getting more physical inside where he could draw fouls and find his touch around the basket.

“We settled in and found the right rotations in the second half,” explained May. “I thought that brought more energy and enthusiasm to the game. It was a heckuva a college basketball game. I wish we had five more minutes.”

Then when Nick Boyd hit a three off the right base and Jalen Gaffney made a pair of free throws with 4:22 remaining, the Bulls’ lead fell to 79-72.

“We said from day one we can lose with this group,” said May. “It’s whether or not it was going to play well. We showed great fight, great resolve and applied intelligent pressure for the most part.”

Bulls lead, 87-86, with 22 Seconds Remaining: The Owls trailed, 87-79, on a reverse layup from Corey Walker, Jr., with 1:13 remaining. However, Davis capped a quick 7-0 Owls run to cut the Bulls lead to 87-86 with the aforementioned 22 seconds to play.

Youngblood and Melton were key throughout with their experience. Youngblood played at Kennesaw State for Coach Abdur-Rahim in his first three seasons and came to Tampa as a transfer.

Miguel had two years at Kansas State before playing the last two seasons with the Bulls.

“We were still up and had a chance to win the game,” said Youngblood. “In our huddles, I kept on saying ‘composure, never relax, Man.’ We have been in this position on the other side, so we know what to do and how to go about everything.”

With that, he made a pair of free throws with 20 seconds remaining and capped the win with a free throw after the Bulls had gotten a rebound on a miss by Gaffney.