TAMPA ― Monday’s proceedings at the Yuengling Center brought nine words that, on any other April Fool’s Day, might’ve been considered comedic.
The Bulls men are one victory from a championship.
Sophomore David Collins drained a one-handed floater in the lane with fewer than two seconds to play, lifting USF (23-13) to a 63-61 victory against DePaul in Game 1 of the best-of-three College Basketball Invitational (CBI) finals before an announced crowd of 2,375.
“It’s college basketball at this time of the year,” Bulls coach Brian Gregory said. “It comes down to play by play, possession by possession. Give them credit because they made big plays down the stretch, and then give us credit for making the big play on the last play of the game.”
The Bulls can clinch the program’s second postseason trophy in Game 2 Wednesday night in Chicago. The first came 29 years ago, in the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Game 3, if necessary, would be Friday in Chicago.
Collins’ game-winner, following a Bulls time-out, capped the latest in a recent string of sparkling Bulls defensive efforts. DePaul, which had scored at least 90 points in six of its last seven contests, had its lowest scoring output since Dec. 22.
“Our defense was good enough to win us the game,” Gregory said, “and our offense made just enough plays.”
The final one will find its own little niche in Bulls lore.
Collins’ game-winner came 10 seconds after Blue Demons senior Eli Cain sank a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the score. Following the time-out, Collins caught the ball in the backcourt with point guard Laquincy Rideau and wing Justin Brown spotting up.
“And it was up to David to make the read and he made a great read, because they kinda shifted out a little bit and he got just enough of an angle to get the shot up,” Gregory said.
DePaul, missing injured point guard Devin Gage, had taken its first lead of the night, 54-53, on senior Max Strus’ 3-pointer. That capped a 15-3 Blue Demons run.
From there, the lead changed four times.
The fourth and final change came on Rideau’s 3-pointer at the top of the key with 1:54 to play, giving USF a 58-56 lead. The Bulls went 10-for-22 (45.5%) from 3-point range.
Collins (game-high 23 points) had a chance to give the Bulls a four-point lead with 22.9 seconds to play, but missed the second of two free throws. He atoned with his second game-clinching bucket of the season, nearly two months after his winning 3-pointer in a 67-66 win at SMU.
“It feels great, honestly, but I’m just glad I got the win with the team,” Collins said. “There were some big plays before that that gave me the chance to even hit the game-winner.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.