TAMPA — There was an aggressive energy from USF coming into the huddle Saturday night when UCF called a timeout about three minutes into the second half.
Ahead 45-38, the Bulls knew they were in control with their largest lead of the game at the Yuengling Center. The fans knew it, too.
And it was that kind of energy that propelled USF to a 68-61 win, breaking its two-game losing streak. It also marked the Bulls’ first back-to-back wins against the Knights since 2013-14.
“It was a great hard-fought game all the way around for 40 minutes,” USF coach Brian Gregory said. “(It) was a critical game for two reasons. One, who we were playing, and two, because of the last two losses, to be able to bounce back at home and get a win was very important.”
USF (6-4, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) fought hard to gain control of the game. Down 11-2 in the first half — courtesy of an 8-0 UCF run — Gregory addressed his team during a media timeout. It seemed to work as USF started to be more aggressive in the paint.
A pair of layups followed by a pair of 3-pointers pulled the Bulls within two before David Collins tied the score at 13 with 13:46 remaining in the half.
“(UCF) got us on our heels a little bit, but our guys responded well,” Gregory said. “We just kind of regrouped at that timeout.”
By the end of the first half, USF shot 12-of-28 (42.9 percent) from the field and 5-of-11 (45.5) behind the arc to UCF’s 15-of-28 (53.9 percent) and 4-of-9 (44.4) from long range.
The Bulls’ first points in the second half gave them the lead for good. They outscored the Knights 34-26, which included shooting 14-of-32 (43.8 percent) from the field and 2-of-8 (25 percent) from 3.
Collins led USF with 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting and 7-of-14 from the free-throw line. The senior guard’s scoring was pivotal to the offense and his play continued deep into the second half as he blocked Jamir Chaplin’s layup with 45 seconds remaining.
USF’s two-game skid consisted of losses to Wichita State and at Memphis. Both of those games came down to the last possession, and the Bulls knew something needed to change.
“After two tough losses, one-possession games, you want to get back to the winning track and play well and finish it out,” Gregory said. “We lost to two really good teams … but they were winnable teams if you do a couple of things.”
Darius Perry scored a career-high 23 points and had six assists for the Knights (3-3, 1-2).
vs. Tulsa, 4 p.m. Wednesday, Yuengling Center Streaming: ESPN+ Radio: Bulls Unlimited