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Collins leads Bulls past Bearcats in 46-45 thriller

26

February

TAMPA -- Life on the NCAA bubble is an exciting time, and USF didn't disappoint Sunday afternoon, rallying twice in the final 30 seconds to pull off a 46-45 thriller against Cincinnati and pick up a huge boost for their tournament resume before a season-high announced crowd of 6,784 at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Senior Ron Anderson --a 48 percent free-throw shooter -- hit two free throws for a one-point lead with 26 seconds left, and after Cincinnati got the lead back on Cashmere Wright's shot with 9 seconds left, freshman Anthony Collins drove the length of the court, drew a foul and hit two free throws with 3.2 seconds left for a crucial Bulls win.

"I'm really proud of those guys, the way we handled adversity, persevered and found a way to come back," said coach Stan Heath, whose team improved to 14-1 in home games. "Anthony Collins, he's just playing incredible. 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 Bulls (18-11, 11-5 in Big East) are fifth in the league standings, having already clinched a first-round bye for the Big East tournament in 10 days. If they can win Wednesday at Louisville or Saturday at home against West Virginia, they should have a strong case to make the NCAA cut for the first time in 20 years.

USF won with defense, holding Cincinnati to eight points under its season low, and 24 points under its season average. In the last five games, the Bulls have held all six opponents to 56 points or less and at least 20 points under their average. The Big East's most prolific 3-point shooting team went 3-for-15 beyond the arc, though Bearcats coach Mick Cronin didn't give the Bulls all the credit for that.

"It's Sunday morning in a hockey arena," Cronin said. "I didn't think we were going to make shots."

USF led most of the way, but after leading 37-31 in the second half, the Bulls went scoreless for more than six minutes, and Cincinnati led 41-37 with four minutes to play. But a layup by Robertson cut the lead to two, and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick's 3-pointer from the wing ignited the crowd in giving the Bulls a 42-41 lead with 2:23 left.

Wright, who had been held to three points, hit a fade for a 43-42 lead with 1:03 left, but the Bulls' Anderson drew a foul as the shot clock was running down with 26 seconds left. For USF to win at the line was unlikely -- the Bulls had gone 1-for-4 on free throws for the entire game before the final 30 seconds. Anderson's front end of the 1-and-1 hit the back of the rim, bounced straight up and in.

"That was the craziest bounce of my career," Anderson said. "There are some things that happen in a game that you can't explain. It furthermore shows me and my team that there's a bigger purpose in what we're doing out there. We're trying to make the tournament this year, and I feel like everything's falling into place."

After Wright gave Cincinnati the lead with 9.5 seconds left, Heath didn't call a time out, trusting in his freshman to make a play, which he did, drawing a foul and hitting the game-winning shots at the line.

"Usually, Coach just says 'Try to make a play,'" said Collins, who had game-highs with 14 points and five assists. "I was just trying to drive, get in the lane, and if I saw an opening, shoot it."

[Last modified: Sunday, February 26, 2012 3:35pm]

    

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