TAMPA, Fla.— USF needed to make a statement to the rest of the nation that last year wasn’t a fluke. The Bulls took a step in the right direction with an impressive win over the Georgia Bulldogs 64-53 as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge
Anthony Collins led the way for the Bulls, dropping 17 points and 10 assists. Collins shot 5-of-12 from the field and knocked down 6-of-7 free throws, while Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Shaun Noriega contributed 13 and 15 points respectively.
Anthony Collins came back into the starting line-up after not playing against Stetson on Monday, as the coaching staff had elected to rest his nagging calf injury.
USF (5-2) again started slow out of the gate, but with the help of Collins and Noriega, the USF offense was able to gain control of the first half. Noriega made a fall-away three-pointer to end the half, putting the Bulls up 27-22. Noriega explained the importance of Anthony Collins to the team.
“When he’s in the game…he changes the whole game…the way he controls the game, he sees everything and knows where people want the ball, so when he’s in the game, he’s a game changer.”
Georgia head coach Mark Fox couldn’t help but be impressed by Collins.
“You know he’s a really good player, he controls the tempo of the game, he controls the ball, he’s selective on when he shoots the ball…I think he’s quick, so he’s hard to control…I think he’s playing with good poise, so a real key to their team.”
The Georgia Bulldogs (2-5) were led by Ken Caldwell-Pope with 19 points and three rebounds, as he was the only one on the Bulldogs in double-digits.
Georgia couldn’t stop USF from making key three-pointers at the most opportune time, especially when the Bulldogs would cut the deficit to two points.
Coach Stan Heath praised Noriega for his stellar play as well as his defense on Caldwell-Pope.
“Noriega I thought was terrific, one of his best games…He had the difficult, difficult assignment of guarding Caldwell-Pope, who’s a terrific player. I know his numbers said 19 points, but I thought Shaun had his best defensive game and obviously 15 points from the other end was very effective for us…”
In the second half, Georgia got within one of South Florida, but USF responded with an 8-0 run with a three-pointer by Fitzpatrick and a long jumper by Collins. Georgia responded with an 8-0 run of its own to tie the game at 35 apiece; the run was led by Caldwell-Pope, who hit back-to-back three-pointers to get the Bulldogs within striking distance.
But it was Collins who kept the Bulldogs at bay with his ball control and his timely shots, especially in the last four minutes of the game. Collins hit the go-ahead floater as he was fouled to put the Bulls up by three with 3:33 left in the game.
A couple possessions later, the Bulls drained the shot clock down to the last possible second when Victor Rudd connected on a huge three-pointer that got the USF crowd to its feet, putting the Bulls up 57-50 with 1:52 left in the game. Rudd finished the game with 12 points and eight rebounds on 3-of-5 shooting, 4-of-6 from the stripe.
Collins explains that Rudd’s three-pointer is of the norm.
“Vic is known to make those, going back to the NCAA tournament last year, he made a couple off the backboard, so I gave him the ball and he did the rest.”
Georgia cut the lead to within six, but couldn’t pull any closer as USF played tough defense and sealed the win with free throws.
Heath explained the progress the team is making after seven games.
“We’re getting closer, but I still don’t think we are flying on all-cylinders, we need a little more out of our bench…I don’t think we’re at where we want to be yet, but we’re getting there…we’re moving in the right direction.”