Observations: Auburn 58, USF 52

The Tigers were down by as many as 15 during their first test away from home. But elite defense and increased toughness were enough for the win.

Bruce Pearl had been waiting for his team to get “exposed.”

And while some might have thought that wouldn’t come until next week’s high-profile trip to the Bahamas, it happened Friday night in Tampa.

Auburn’s offense struggled to get anything going and found itself down by 15 points in the first half to a USF team ranked just inside the top-200 in KenPom.

But the Tigers’ first trip away from Auburn Arena this season did its job. Pearl’s team got physically challenged on a different level than it had in its first week of the season. Auburn got to play in Amalie Arena — where the SEC Tournament will be held in March — and get used to playing in that venue.

Auburn used a second-half surge to beat USF, 58-52. The Tigers will learn a lot from the hard-fought comeback victory. And the timing and location of the win was fitting, because it showed a talented, new-look roster that it’s got a long way to go — but it still has plenty of time before it starts the games that matter most, back in Tam…

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