The Vikings (13-1) trailed by as many as seven in the opening half and entered halftime down 26-24 after shooting 11 of 34 from the field (32.4 percent).
With the score tied, 44-44, for the 11th time at the 11:53 mark of the second half, Cleveland State went on a 17-7 run to take a 51-41 lead with 4:27 to go.
The Bulls (6-7) turned the ball over five times and were 1 of 5 from the floor during that stretch.
Jarrid Famous scored 22 points and had 11 rebounds to lead South Florida. Ron Anderson Jr. grabbed 13 rebounds as the Bulls posted a 49-26 advantage on the boards.
The Vikings, who were coming off a 74-63 loss to West Virginia on Dec. 18, forced 24 South Florida turnovers while turning the ball over themselves just four times.