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Bulls claim first place in the conference with comeback win over Charlotte

Junior guard Selton Miguel (pictured) came off the bench to lead the Bulls with 22 points in their thrilling win over the 49ers on Tuesday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

As the lights in the Yuengling Center dimmed Tuesday night, Bulls legend Charlie Bradley’s voice echoed on the big screen, giving way to the rabid cheers of 6,156 in attendance. 

It became clear that this wasn’t the same old South Florida. 

Related: ‘This ain’t the same old South Florida’: USF basketball first-week impressions

“[The fans] will be a huge part of our success,” said Bulls coach Amir Abdur-Rahim at a postgame interview. “That energy wasn’t good, it wasn’t great. That energy was elite.”

In an anticipated conference matchup between two of the top teams in the American, USF men’s basketball (16-5, 9-1) made yet another improbable comeback to take down Charlotte 72-69. 

With the win, USF now finds itself atop of the standings in the American Conference.

Senior guard Chris Youngblood said the home court atmosphere – revitalized from a now eight-game winning streak – played a huge role in turning around the game.

Senior guard Selton Miguel – in his second year with the team – shared a similar sentiment. 

“We haven’t had that in a long time. We needed that for sure, it definitely helped,” he said.

Charlotte (14-8, 8-2 AAC) took command of the first half from the opening tipoff, leading by as much as 17 with just under four minutes to play.

The Bulls closed the gap to 10, with the 49ers going into the half with a 47-37 lead. 

But the narrative over the latter half of the season remained true – USF dominates in the second half. 

Related: USF men’s basketball stun No. 10 Memphis in thrilling comeback

The Bulls stormed back with just over seven minutes to play, going on a 9-0 run sparked by a couple of trips to the free throw line by Miguel. 

During the span, the 49ers failed to score for nearly five minutes. 

Youngblood said that defense in the final few minutes of the game has been a focal point for the team all season long.

“The last part of the game, we just take it to a whole new level,” Youngblood said during a postgame interview. “We know it has nothing to do with talent, it’s about who wants it more. I guarantee you, as a group, we’re going to want it more.” 

A jumper by Youngblood made it a one-possession game for the first time since Charlotte’s opening bucket. 

After a couple of missed free throws, senior guard Brandon Stroud redeemed himself with a layup to give the Bulls a 70-69 lead with 29 seconds left in the game. 

As the Yuengling Center roared with excitement, Charlotte took possession with the chance to take the lead. It resulted in a badly missed three by junior forward Igor Milicic Jr. A final last-second attempt went awry as the Bulls completed yet another unforeseen comeback. 

The win has enormous consequences. The Bulls now are in sole possession of first place in the American Conference, gearing themselves for a potential conference tourney run and NCAA tournament bid

Abdur-Rahim, however, is still focused on getting through an AAC slate that he called “a bear.” 

“We want to win the AAC tournament, we want to win the regular season [title]. In order to do that, we have to play 40 minutes of consistent basketball,” he said. 

Men’s basketball will face Rice on the road at Tudor Fieldhouse on Saturday at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and Bulls Unlimited.