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Collins lifts Bulls to victory in Game 1 of CBI final

USF's bench reacts during Game 1 of the College Basketball Invitational final round Monday at the Yuengling Center. The Bulls won 63-61 and are one victory from winning the tournament championship. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

Guard David Collins had a chance to seal a victory in Round 1 of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) against Stony Brook. His layup didn’t get off in time to beat the buzzer and the game went into overtime.

That wasn’t the case Monday night.

Collins drove to the basket with 1.7 seconds on the clock and found the game-winner at the rim to give USF a 63-61 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-three CBI final against DePaul at the Yuengling Center.

“I just kind of picked the ball up and split it,” Collins said. “I just shot a floater and it just went in.”

Collins scored 23 points, recorded six assists and shot 62 percent from the field in another standout performance. He’s picked up double figures in points the past 14 games and this was his 12th game in which he’s scored 20 points or more.

Collins has arguably been the main man for USF (23-13) the past two seasons and has proven himself to be a clutch player in tight games.

“I feel very comfortable with the ball in David’s hands,” coach Brian Gregory said. “Even if a play or two before he hasn’t made a great play or made a wrong decision, he’s a competitive kid and I’ll take those kinds of guys every day.”

Collins wasn’t the only clutch player, as fellow guard Laquincy Rideau put up 15 points against the Blue Demons (18-15). Over half of his points came in the second half and his 3-pointer with less than two minutes left gave the Bulls the lead and put them in position to win.

“It’s always good to have guys that can make those plays at the end of the game,” Gregory said. “I think I’m fortunate because I think I’ve got two guys. [Rideau] has made big plays for us at the end of games, sometimes a basket. We don’t win that game if he didn’t make that 3.”

A budding partnership between the two guards spoke volumes about USF’s offensive play against the Blue Demons, with both players making up 60 percent of the Bulls' points.

“A lot of times some of [Collins'] shots that he gets in those crucial times are often [Rideau's] passes,” Gregory said. “Those guys are starting to learn how to play off each other … you look at the teams that are still playing and they have great guard combinations. I think we have that.”

As the game went down to the wire, with DePaul taking the lead on a 3-pointer with under five minutes to play, the energy of the Yuengling Center crowd in the last home game of the season was electric.

“I’d like to thank the crowd, they came out and supported us tonight,” Rideau said. “I’d like to give them credit for helping us come out and play hard and just keep us motivated to want to win.”

The Bulls won their 23rd game, setting a new program record. The fact that it was the final home victory has mentally prepared the team for Game 2 on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Chicago and, if necessary, Game 3 on the road Friday.

“I was pleased to end it with 18 wins at home, which is incredible,” Gregory said. “You got to build the momentum and winning this home game in the fashion that we did, now I would have liked it a lot less dramatic, was great.”