For the desperate University of South Florida Bulls, it didn't matter how a victory was achieved Saturday night. The Bulls just needed to win — period.
But the circumstances of USF's 61-58 triumph against the Georgetown Hoyas, before 6,189 fans at the Sun Dome, made it alternately improbable, dramatic and spine-tingling.
"We needed that one,'' USF coach Stan Heath said. "We really felt like our backs were against that wall.''
The Bulls (10-7, 1-4 Big East) arrived back in Tampa on Friday at 4 a.m., following a defeat at Rutgers. Some players had classes. There was only mental preparation for the difficult style of Georgetown (12-4, 2-3).
So there was USF, its confidence shaken, trailing by 11 points early in the second half, shooting poorly from the perimeter, on the brink of digging an even deeper hole in the Big East.
USF, which missed its first 10 attempts from the 3-point arc during a dismal start, made five of its first six treys early in the second half to take the lead.
"We just had to stick with it,'' Heath said.
"Our sense of urgency to get out on their shooters just wasn't there,'' said Georgetown coach John Thompson III.
"We just started playing with a lot more confidence,'' said USF sophomore point guard Anthony Collins, who had zero points in the first half, 14 in the second.
USF, which built a seven-point lead, went without a field goal in the final 6:39 and held on by its fingernails. Slowly, Georgetown came back, cutting it to 59-58, then setting up its final possession, twice calling time out, going for the kill with 12.2 seconds to go.
Hoyas sophomore Otto Porter, the team's leading scorer, drove into the lane while guarded closely by Victor Rudd. There was contact. Porter lost the handle, and the ball deflected off Collins' back.
"I thought he was fouled, but it wasn't called,'' Thompson said.
"I got bumped real hard and the ball came loose,'' Porter said.
Rudd, then Fitzpatrick, flicked it forward. Martino Brock went horizontal, diving into the front row, saving it to a kneeling Collins, who was fouled. Collins clinched it on a successful one-and-one with 3 seconds to go.
"When you're 0-4 in the league and not feeling great about yourself, down by 11, you kind of say, 'How are we going to be?' " Heath said. "Are we going to fight back? I saw a lot in our basketball team."
Jawanza Poland had a team-high 15 points, while freshman JaVontae Hawkins, making his third straight start, added 12.
USF committed just five turnovers. In the second half, the Bulls shot 50 percent from the floor, 53.8 percent from 3-point territory and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
"That's one hell of a second-half performance,'' Heath said.
But USF's finest moment might have occurred on Georgetown's final possession.
That one could only be appreciated, not quantified.
"That last (defensive) stand really signified what it took to get the job done,'' Heath said. "I saw guys getting down in that stance, switching, talking, communicating. The ball got loose. Two guys on the floor. (Brock) just laid out and kept it alive and ultimately (Collins) hit the free throws.
"I think (winning) gets a lot of weight off the back. … We've got to play game by game and build on what we did tonight.''