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Collins provides spark for pair of wins

If the first two games of his collegiate career are any indication, true freshman point guard Anthony Collins could provide stability at a key position for the USF men’s basketball team for years to come.

After missing the first five games of the season with a hip flexor injury, Collins made his collegiate debut in a 66-46 win over Georgia Southern on Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum and played his second game Saturday night in a 68-55 win over Florida Atlantic at the University of Tampa.

Against the Owls, Collins stole the show. The Bulls (5-2) led for most of the game, at one point leading by 22, but hot shooting helped FAU (3-4) close the gap to nine points with 5:03 left in the game. It was then that Collins scored four straight points to re-extend the lead and keep USF comfortable.

“He does not play like a freshman,” coach Stan Heath said. “Just when they were making that run, we needed something and he provided that. That shows a lot. He’s certainly an advanced player for his age.”

Collins scored 12 points and dished out seven assists against the Owls, but it was a highlight-reel circus shot he made while falling to the ground after being fouled that earned him a new nickname.

“He’s ‘Mr. Excitement’ and makes a lot of things happen out there,” Heath said. “He gives you a tremendous lift. He’s got the ball on a string and he can kind of get in places that very few guys can get to.”

Since he’s coming off an injury, Heath said there’s more to come from Collins because he hasn’t been able to participate in a full practice session at any point in the last month. Collins himself said he rated his health after the FAU game at about “80, 85 percent.”

Opposing coaches also are taking notice of Collins. FAU beat USF 50-42 in Boca Raton last year, but Owls coach Mike Jarvis said point guard play was the difference for the Bulls this year.

“(The Bulls) now have a legitimate point guard,” Jarvis said. “I think that’s going to be the biggest difference going forward. He can make plays if you don’t guard him properly.”

USF was without forward Augustus Gilchrist for both games, but received huge efforts from interior players Ron Anderson Jr. and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick in his absence.

Fitzpatrick set career highs in points and rebounds against FAU with 17 and 14, respectively. Anderson also recorded a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds against the Owls. Anderson led the Bulls against Georgia Southern with 17 points.

The Bulls will now hit the road for a Wednesday night game against Virginia Commonwealth, which made a Cinderella run to the Final Four a season ago, despite losing to USF 60-59 in overtime last December.