CINCINNATI (AP) -- A refreshed Deonta Vaughn scored 21 points Wednesday night, and Cincinnati survived three off-target shots in the closing seconds, holding on for a 52-51 victory over South Florida.
The Bearcats (13-12, 8-5) have won three straight conference games for the first time during their three seasons in the Big East, the latest breakthrough in their turnaround season.
South Florida (11-16, 2-13) was coming off its most stinging loss in a long string of them. The Bulls went to overtime before losing 74-73 to Connecticut on Saturday, done in by Craig Austrie's running jumper at the buzzer.
This time, they failed to make a shot at the end, setting up their 12th loss in the last 13 games.
Guard Dominique Jones dribbled on the baseline while driving to the basket with 12.9 seconds left, a turnover that forced the Bulls to foul. They got another chance when Adam Hrycaniuk missed his first free throw, but Jones missed a driving shot and Kentrell Gransberry's tip rolled off the rim with 2.7 seconds left.
The ball was knocked out of bounds, giving South Florida one more chance. Jones missed a shot from the right corner at the buzzer.
Jones had 16 points, leaving him 22 shy of the school scoring record for a freshman. Gransberry, a power forward who was the focal point of Cincinnati's defense, had 17 rebounds but only seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Neither team led by more than seven points in a back-and-forth game.
Vaughn, who scored a career-low three points on 1-of-7 shooting against St. John's, looked refreshed after the Bearcats' week off between games. He scored 14 in the first half, helping Cincinnati take a 27-24 lead at the break.
The Bearcats double-teamed the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Gransberry, who is the Bulls' leading scorer at 17.2 points per game and was coming of one of his best. Gransberry had 26 points and 15 rebounds in the loss to UConn.
He couldn't get off a clear shot against Cincinnati, missing all five of his tries in the first half.
Gransberry landed awkwardly on his left ankle after passing out of a trap with 12:18 left in the game, then limped to the bench. He got the ankle taped and returned, making a turnaround bank shot that put South Florida up 39-37, its first lead of the half.
There were three lead changes in the last six minutes. Marcus Sikes made a 3-pointer and had a putback on consecutive possessions, putting Cincinnati ahead to stay 50-46 with 3:23 to go.