ORLANDO — Four days earlier, USF point guard Anthony Collins was carried off the court on a stretcher, hospitalized with a neck injury, and teammate Victor Rudd had suffered a concussion.
Questionable going in, those two Bulls were back and then some Wednesday night, leading USF to a 65-56 victory at UCF Arena with a pair of double doubles. Collins had 16 points and 10 assists, going 6-for-6 on free throws in the final minute, and Victor Rudd had 13 points and 11 rebounds, helping avenge an 18-point loss in Tampa in the teams' season opener.
"Those two guys with double doubles, I don't know where we'd be without them," said USF coach Stan Heath, whose team finished nonconference play with a 9-3 record, up from 7-6 last year when the Bulls made the NCAA Tournament.
The biggest points, however, came from forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who had USF's only field goal in the final 11 minutes, hitting a 3-pointer with 1:06 left as the Bulls were clinging to a one-point lead. UCF had cut a 13-point Bulls lead to a tie score and missed a free throw that would have put it ahead before USF scored the next 10.
"I felt I could go out and contribute to my team, at least a little bit," said Collins, who had ice on his neck and a boot on his left foot for a lingering calf injury after the game. "It bothered me, but I just tried to keep the game simple, get everybody the ball and let them take it the rest of the way."
On Saturday night, Collins and Rudd had serious injuries in a close win against George Mason. Collins gave fans and teammates a scare as he was carried off the court motionless by EMS personnel with what ended up being a neck sprain, while Rudd suffered a concussion in the final minute and still had headaches Wednesday morning, cleared by doctors just before the Bulls took the bus to the arena.
"It felt good coming into the game. They gave me the green light," said Rudd, who injured his left elbow in the first half but continued playing. "It felt good to play. AC wanted to play and he hadn't practiced all week, either. We wanted to get out there and give our team a lift."
In a game of runs, UCF scored 15 straight in the first half for a 27-19 lead, but USF finished the half with nine straight, getting back-to-back 3s from Musa Abdul-Aleem then a buzzer-beater 3 by Fitzpatrick for a 28-27 lead.
USF built a 13-point lead with 13 minutes to play, but then the Bulls went cold, and UCF rallied behind guard Isaiah Sykes (17 points) and forward Keith Clanton (18 points, 14 rebounds). Sykes tied the score with 2:29 to play and had a free throw for the lead but missed. Collins added one free throw, then Fitzpatrick hit his huge 3; USF then went 8-for-8 on free throws in the final minute, including six straight by Collins.
"It's starting to be a pretty nice little matchup between our two programs," said Heath, who will next face the Knights as Big East rivals next season.
USF opens Big East play on Sunday at home against No. 7 Syracuse.