TAMPA — In the span of a second, four USF players had a hand on the ball, and the end result was the Bulls' first Big East win of the season.
The Bulls were up one against Georgetown, but the Hoyas had the ball, coming out of a time out with 12 seconds left, the Sun Dome as loud as it's been since reopening, with what seemed like all of an announced 6,189 on their feet.
The Hoyas' Otto Porter went to his right, and as the Bulls switched off on defense, the ball caromed off the back of point guard Anthony Collins. Victor Rudd tipped the loose ball, then Toarlyn Fitzpatrick had a hand on it, and as it looked to go out of bounds, Martino Brock dived and kept the ball in play, where Collins got it and was fouled. His free throws with three seconds left clinched the Bulls' 61-58 win against the Hoyas, a huge win for a USF squad that had opened 0-4 in Big East play.
"Our backs were against that wall. It was a gutsy performance from our team," said coach Stan Heath, whose team got home from a loss at Rutgers at 4 a.m. Friday morning. "When you're 0-4 in the league and you're not feeling great about yourself ... you kind of say "Are we going to have some resolve, have some toughness, are we going to fight back? I thought we saw a lot in our basketball team. They were willing to battle, to fight, to scrap."
The Bulls (10-7, 1-4 in Big East) went 1-for-14 on 3-pointers in the first half, fortunate to be trailing just 31-23 at the break. Georgetown (12-4, 2-3) built the lead to 11 early in the second half, but then USF caught fire. Fitzpatrick, Rudd and Jawanza Poland hit 3s on consecutive possessions, and after a miss, Collins and Rudd hit 3s for an improbable 15-2 run and a 38-36 lead.
USF closed out the win with defense -- the Bulls didn't hit a field goal in the final 6:30, and after leading 59-54 with 3:40 left, didn't score until Collins' free throws with three seconds remaining. Heath cited the team's lack of turnovers -- just five for the game, and just one in the final 19 minutes -- while forcing 15 turnovers from the Hoyas.
USF's offense was balanced, with Poland getting 15 off the bench and freshman JaVontae Hawkins getting a season-high 12, including eight of the team's first 10 points. Collins didn't see the ball come loose on the final play -- it went off his back, after all -- but he credited his teammates for keeping the ball alive, especially Brock, who went flying to get the ball in the hands of its most sure-handed free-throw shooter in the closing seconds.
"That was awesome, a smart play to throw the ball inbounds," said Collins, who had 14 points and five assists.
USF has a game Wednesday at Seton Hall (12-6, 1-4), then return home to face Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon.