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Bulls survive late-game push from Temple in first round of AAC tournament

Senior guard David Collins (above) scored 23 points in the win over Temple on Thursday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The first conference tournament game win in the Brian Gregory era did not come easy for the USF men’s basketball team, as Thursday’s 73-71 victory over the Temple Owls came down to the wire.

The Bulls (9-12, 4-10 AAC) found themselves up 11 points with 2:12 remaining, and the win looked to be well within reach. That was before senior guard Brendan Barry of the Owls (5-11, 4-10 AAC) caught fire and sank three straight three-pointers to cut into USF’s lead in the game’s waning moments.

“Those three threes [Barry] hit were the only threes [Temple] hit in the second half. We lost him on a couple scrambles because of end-of-game situations and some switches,” coach Brian Gregory said in the press conference after the game. “But he’s dangerous … He’s changed games for them this year.

“He’s so dangerous because he’s got great range and such a quick release … He’s one of those guys, once he hits that first one, you just hold on to your breath, because he can really get it going.”

After Barry’s three-point eruption, senior guard David Collins stepped to the free-throw line with seven seconds left and a chance to ice it with the Bulls up two points. Collins missed both free throws and Temple’s sophomore guard Khalif Battle, who lit the Bulls up in their previous two meetings earlier this season, grabbed the rebound and stormed down the floor in an effort to tie or win the game.

Battle lost control of the ball around the three-point line and it fell into the hands of Collins, who dribbled out the clock. Collins spoke about what happened from his perspective in the postgame press conference.

“Honestly, I was just trying not to let him get the three off. I feel like I would rather go into overtime than live with him just taking a three,” Collins said. “A guy like that, he [just] missed three shots in a row, he [probably] makes the fourth shot, he makes the tough shot. That’s what I was thinking, and then he happened to dribble off his foot, and I was just thinking ‘Get the ball.’”

Despite struggling from the free-throw line, Collins still put up one of his best performances of the season and registered a game-high 23 points.

“His aggressiveness was tremendous, and he also had some great passes and some great one-more passes that led to a basket,” Gregory said. “If I’m going to [get on him about] some defensive stuff, then I got to give him credit because he was obviously really good on Battle today as well.

“Just a great game by him, [we had] the opportunity to continue to play, he responded extremely well, so give him all the credit in the world.”

Collins started the game ice cold as he went 0-of-5 from the field to open things up, but he maintained his composure and just kept playing, as he put it.

“At this point in my career, I don’t even think of the shots like that, I just keep playing,” Collins said. “If open shots show, I’m going to shoot it. Just keep playing through it, and try to get my teammates involved and get what the defense is giving me.”

In addition to Collins, junior center Michael Durr also had an impressive game as he posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

“Mike has blossomed, [he’s] top three or four in the league in rebounding, he’s a force around the basket, our best free-throw shooter as well,” Gregory said. “His presence on the defensive end was really, really good today as well, with two blocks and obviously the defensive rebounding.

“He did a great job on the ball screen coverage, we changed it up a little bit and he was really, really effective.”

The Bulls won the rebounding battle 43-38 and were able to pull down 12 offensive boards, all done without redshirt junior forward Alexis Yetna who was unavailable to play in the game due to an injury.

“We needed guys to step up without Alexis playing today and we got good minutes, really quality minutes from Rashun [Williams], really quality minutes from Prince [Oduro] and really quality minutes off the bench from Jamir Chaplin,” Gregory said.

Those three players combined for 12 rebounds, while junior guard Xavier Castañeda and senior wing Justin Brown were able to pull down seven and five boards themselves, respectively.

Chaplin was the second leading scorer for the Bulls as he put up 12 points while shooting 5-of-8 from the field and 2-of-5 from three-point range.

Next up, the Bulls will take on the No. 1 seeded Wichita State Shockers in the quarterfinals, a team they are 0-2 against this year, including a dramatic overtime loss Dec. 22.

“I think our guys will feel confident going into this game, and we’ll have a good game plan … we got to compete for 40 minutes,” Gregory said. “If we do that, for the most part, even with all the stuff this team has gone through, they’ve been able to compete with anybody in the league.

“So it’s time to step up and prove it over the next 40 minutes.”

The game against the Shockers will take place Friday at noon and will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.