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South Florida fends off DePaul comeback bid

Chris Howard #3 of the University of South

Chris Howard #3 of the University of South Florida lays up a shot against DePaul University during the first round game of the Big East Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden. (March 9, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

DePaul almost made it a contest against South Florida in its Big East Tournament first-round game Tuesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

The Blue Demons clawed back from a double-digit deficit in the second half, eventually pulling to within five.

But in the end, the Bulls were just too talented and junior guard Dominique Jones was just too dynamic to contain.

The 6-4 Jones, who won the Big East scoring title after averaging 23.3 points in league play, scored 20 points and had nine rebounds as ninth-seeded South Florida won its first Big East Tournament game in school history, topping No. 16 DePaul, 58-49.

Mike Mercer chipped in 14 points and five rebounds for the Bulls (20-11), who will face eighth-seeded Georgetown Wednesday at noon in the second round.

DePaul, which finished last in the conference during the regular season, stumbled out of the gate and fell behind by 19 with 2:40 left in the first half. They trailed 30-15 at the break, but the Blue Demons (8-23) capped an 11-2 run with a Jeremiah Kelly three-pointer to pull within 36-31 with 12:34 left in the game.

But that's the closest DePaul would get. Guard Will Walker led the Blue Demons with 20 points.

"DePaul, give them a lot of credit. They don't quit," USF coach Stan Heath said. "They have a lot of fight in them. They kept coming at us. We had to just kind of weather the storm a little bit and hold on and get the win."

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