With 14 seconds left and USF clinging to 70-69 lead at East Carolina Wednesday, freshman Collin Dennis was at the free throw line.
“I was pretty much thinking, ‘Please don’t miss this, do not miss this shot,” Dennis said.
Well, he didn’t, and USF held on to defeat ECU 72-71.
“We expected him to make free throws,” coach Robert McCullum said. “He’s one of the team’s better shooters.”
Dennis finished with 15 points, connecting on 9 of 10 from the free throw line, six of which came in the last 1:37. Most telling, though, was that the freshman played a seasonhigh 32 minutes.
Hailing from North Richland, Texas, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound guard has been thrust into a more prominent role since fellow guard Marius Prekevicius was sidelined earlier this week with a meniscus tear in his left knee.
Prekevicius, a starter before the injury, will miss 3-4 weeks.
“With Marius out, I had to step in,” Dennis said. “Coach (McCullum) told me, ‘We need more out of you.’ So I just tried to play good defense and tried to knock down open shots.”
Knocking down open shots was certainly something Dennis did versus Texas-Arlington on Dec. 29. Not only did Dennis score a career-high 21 points in that game, he did so shooting 8 of 10 from the field and 4 of 6 from the three-point line.
“I was too happy after that game,” Dennis said. “I didn’t expect to score 21 as a freshman.”
Dennis saw his first real action Nov. 26 in the Bulls’ 93-65 victory over Stetson, playing 13 minutes and scoring 10 points.
“He brings everything,” senior guard Brian Swift said.
“He can shoot the basketball and he plays with a lot of confidence for a freshman. Basically I think he brings us a wing player that can really shoot the ball, and that’s really what we need. He’s been capable since day one. He had a slow start but he’s picking it up at the right time — conference time.”
USF does not play again until Jan. 15, when it travels to face Marquette. Again, Dennis should see considerable playing time.
“(Dennis) plays with so much confidence. He has a quality about him that you like as a player,” McCullum said. “As a coach, you can really get on him and it doesn’t really bother him. It’s almost like says to himself ‘I’ll show you.’ You kind of like that.”