The Bulls showed that they don’t mind the pressure on them with all the surrounding talk of their tournament chances and possibly making their first appearance in the Big Dance since 1992.
The USF men’s basketball team held on to win a nail bitter Sunday as they defeated Cincinnati 46-45 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in front of a season-high crowd of 6,785.
Freshman Anthony Collins sank two crucial free throws, a game tying one and the go ahead with only 3.2 seconds remaining in the game to seal a win over the Bearcats.
USF led for the majority of the game but it was nose to nose throughout, seeing five ties and 15 different lead changes.
After holding a six point lead in the second half, the Bulls went scoreless for 6:24. Cincinnati then led 41-37 with only four minutes of play remaining.
“I’m really proud of those guys, the way we just handled adversity, persevered and found a way to come back,” Bulls Coach Stan Heath said.
Collins led all USF scores with 14 points and five assists. He also had four defensive rebounds and one steal.
Even though Collins is a freshman, he dealt with the amounting pressure like any other player on the roster would have.
“Anthony Collins, he’s just playing incredible,” Heath said. I don’t know how to explain it. He’s a freshman. He doesn’t play like a freshman, he doesn’t act like a freshman. But he sure makes things happen on the court for us.”
The point guard was asked if he ever remembered a time when his free throws came with that much pressure and he was stumped.
“I can’t even remember,” Collins said with a grin. “Usually, Coach just says ‘Try to make a play.’”
Collins did just that when he drew a foul in the final seconds of the game. His pivotal free-throws came after Cincinnati had twice regained the lead and the Bearcats never had a chance to get a final shot off.
“I was just trying to drive, get in the lane, and if I saw an opening, shoot it,” he said.
USF won in another defensive effort. In the Bulls’ last five outings, they have held opponents to 56 points or less and are the best in the Big East at scoring defense, allowing an average of 58.1 points per game.
Cincinnati, one of the Big East’s most prolific three-point teams, went 3-for-15.
With the win, the Bulls now sit at fifth in the league standings. If they can get wins in at Louisville and against West Virginia, a strong case should be made for USF to reach the Big Dance for the first time since 1992.
“Before today, we’re definitely on the outside looking in,” he said. “Everybody kept talking about, “This is a part of their schedule that is either going to make or break them.’ The first leg, the first step, we passed. We still got a couple more games to go, plus the [Big East] tournament. We still need some wins.”
Heath hinted at winning out the rest of the remaining games on the schedule is key to make the tournament in March.
“I still feel that winning down the stretch will be the answer to the questions,” he added.