Collins shines in War on I-4 battle

David Collins’ all-around performance led the Bulls to victory against UCF in the first War on I-4 game of the season. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

Following one of his worst performances in a USF uniform against Memphis on Dec. 29, senior guard David Collins came out with his best performance of the season in USF’s 68-61 win over UCF (3-3, 1-2) on Saturday night. 

After falling behind 11-2 early in the first half, it looked like the Bulls (6-4, 2-2) would need a special performance to pull this one out. Collins answered the call with a complete game finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one block on 6 for 7 shooting.

“We had to pick it up, we had a slow start,” Collins said of going down early. “We had to anchor the defense down and the offense will come.” 

More important than the individual performance, the Bulls were able to hold on to their lead late in the game, something they were unable to do in their previous two contests against Wichita State and Memphis, respectively.

[I was] very motivated, we lost by one point last game, we were just ready to respond and what better way to respond than with a rivalry game,” Collins said. “We just came out wanting to win.”

Collins’ explosion came on a night in which the Bulls were struggling offensively. USF shot 43% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. Despite facing a wide variety of defensive looks, whenever his team needed a spark offensively Collins was the one either knocking down the shot or finding a teammate for an open bucket.

Coach Brian Gregory was pleased with the senior’s performance against the Knights’ versatile defensive strategy, but still sees room for improvement on that end of the floor.

“He was efficient, he was really efficient for us offensively,” Gregory said. “[He] did a good job flashing one time in the zone and made the basket. We gotta keep getting better at being able to flow quickly, no matter what they’re in man or zone, into our offense.”

In addition to his efficient performance on offense, Collins also played excellent defense against Brandon Mahan, one of the premier players in the AAC. Mahan, who is currently leading the conference in scoring with 20 points per game, was held to just two points on 1 for 3 shooting with his only points coming in the first half. He ultimately ended up fouling out. 

Collins was able to limit Mahan’s offensive impact on the game by playing excellent ball denial defense.

“We started David on [Mahan] and I thought David did a great job,” Gregory said. “We didn’t have any gimmicks or anything like that, we just told David, ‘you’ve got to get in a stance and you’ve got to guard him ‘cause [Mahan’s] a multi-dimensional scorer.

“When David’s that focused he’s as good a defender as there is in the league, no doubt about it. I think when he’s active like that it puts us in a good position.”

To top it all off, Collins made history against the Knights when he broke the all-time AAC record for free throws made, ironically breaking former UCF star BJ Taylor’s record of 456. He will now look to build upon that record as the season progresses.

As great as Collins’ individual performance was Saturday night, the most important thing for Gregory and the Bulls was to get back in the win column after a couple of tough losses, and knowing it came against the school that’s right up I-4 sweetened the victory.

“You get to play a game that’s a little more important,” Gregory said when asked about playing the Knights. “I’ve said it since day one I’m not going to shy away from that. You have a great respect for them but it’s a special game. But at the same time, after two tough losses, one possession games, you want to get back on the winning track and play well.”