TAMPA — Down by a point to Rutgers with 17 seconds left Sunday, USF coach Stan Heath knew exactly where he wanted the ball to be: in the hands of a freshman playing just his second Big East game, having scored just four points on the day.
But point guard Anthony Collins added another chapter to his promising young Bulls career, driving the length of the court and hitting a layup (and free throw) for a two-point lead with 12 seconds left. His rival in an electric, back-and-forth showdown, Rutgers freshman guard Eli Carter, missed a shot at the buzzer, and USF earned a 67-65 win before an announced 2,486 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"I had a lot of confidence that at the end of the game, the ball was definitely going to be in (Collins') hands and he was going to make the play," said Heath, whose team beat Rutgers (8-6, 0-1) for the fourth time in the past six meetings. "We had a game a few games ago, Southern Miss, where he didn't get the ball. I made sure our guys understood: 'That guy gets the ball at the end of the game.' It happened, and good things happen for us."
Heath called the same play that Anthony Crater ran for the winning layup in the closing seconds to upset Villanova in last season's Big East tournament. On Sunday, Rutgers tried to steal the inbounds pass to the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Collins, but he moved quickly downcourt and hit his layup as he was fouled by 6-8, 245-pound Gilvydas Biruta.
"It felt good," said the quiet, unassuming freshman, who had a season-high 10 assists, one short of Chris Howard's school record for a Big East game.
USF (8-7, 1-1) played well in Wednesday's Big East opener, losing to No. 9 Connecticut by three. Both coaches Sunday said much of the Bulls' victory also belonged to the post play of senior center Ron Anderson, who had 15 points, 11 in the second half.
"I thought Ron Anderson was a difference maker. He came in and changed it with rebounding, with some intensity plays, some charges. That was huge for us," Heath said.
The game saw eight lead changes in the final 2:34, after USF had led the entire second half up to that point. Four guards made plays to give USF the lead in that final span: Hugh Robertson first, then a 3-pointer by Shaun Noriega, then two free throws by Jawanza Poland with 50 seconds left, then Collins' wild drive.
"I think it does a lot for us. Now we know what it takes," Heath said. "Now we know we can get the job done. Now we have an idea of what needs to take place. It wasn't just one guy. Several guys made some very, very good plays down the stretch, offensively and defensively."
Carter, who scored 31 in Rutgers' double-overtime upset at home of No. 10 Florida on Thursday, had a game-high 23 against USF, hitting four 3-pointers and getting a season-high five steals.
USF doesn't have much time to celebrate, hitting the road Wednesday to play at Villanova.