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USF takes care of Tulsa, setting up first-place showdown on Sunday

TAMPA – The preliminaries — all 11 seasons’ worth — are completed.

The USF men’s basketball team romped past Tulsa 69-50 on Wednesday night to set up the biggest game the Bulls have played since joining the American Athletic Conference in 2013.

South Florida will face No. 24 Florida Atlantic at noon on Sunday at a sold-out Yuengling Center with first place in the conference on the line and an ESPN audience tuning in. The last time the Bulls were sitting atop the standings this late in a season was 2001, when they were tied with Memphis for first place in Conference USA before finishing third.

“One thing this team has done a great job of all year is they haven’t looked ahead. They are playing from a different vantage point than any team has played from at USF for a long time,” head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim said. “When you get the pats on the back all day it can cause you to become complacent so they did a great job of fighting that.

“I think they’d be lying if they said they weren’t thinking about Sunday, but they did a great job of just being where their feet were.”

As warmups go, this one could not have gone much better for USF. The Bulls took a lead a little more than three minutes into the game and never looked back. They were outstanding from the 3-point line (9-of-15 in the first half; 13-of-24 for the game) and had terrific ball movement on offense. Of USF’s 22 field goals, 17 came off assists.

“Our main focus on our team is just being able to move the ball around and find open guys,” said junior forward Corey Walker. “Once we do that, we have a better chance of winning by getting the team involved.”

Forward Kasean Pryor had a double double with 12 points and 11 rebounds to go along with five assists.

While USF had a double-digit lead for most of the game, Abdur-Rahim was unhappy with the team’s ball handling at times. The Bulls, who were averaging 10.6 turnovers a game, had 15 Wednesday.

“Pleased,” Abdur-Rahim said, “but not satisfied.”

The Bulls, now 18-5 overall and 11-1 in the conference, have a 1½-game lead on both FAU and Charlotte with six games remaining. USF beat Charlotte at home last week and face the 49ers again on the road on March 2.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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