The University of South Florida Bulls nearly blew a late 13-point lead but hung on to defeat the George Mason Patriots 61-57 at the Sun Dome.
That wasn't Saturday night's biggest concern.
USF lost sophomore point guard Anthony Collins with 10:30 remaining when his head slammed into a defender's knee while they scrambled for a loose ball. Collins remained on the court for 10 minutes, moving only slightly. His head and neck were stabilized by EMS officials and he was carted away on a stretcher as the 4,856 fans provided a reassuring ovation.
Bulls coach Stan Heath said Collins, a preseason second-team All-Big East selection, suffered a neck injury and was taken to a Tampa hospital. Heath said Collins had sensation in "his extremities, his hands and feet." Collins' status was unknown for Wednesday night's game at Central Florida.
Also, USF junior Victor Rudd suffered a late-game concussion, leaving the Bulls with just five healthy scholarship players in the final minute (they came into the game minus Shaun Noriega and JaVontae Hawkins, plus Kore White was unavailable with a toe injury).
"I'm proud of the guys," said Heath, whose team improved to 8-3. "We hung in there."
Even without Collins, USF's alpha and omega.
"It was hard to see him down there (on the court)," said USF junior Martino Brock, who assumed much of the ball-handling duties following Collins' absence. "I pray that everything goes good with him. He's our point guard, our leader. He does so much for us."
Jawanza Poland led USF with 16 points and eight rebounds, including four free throws after the Patriots (7-5) had cut the Bulls' lead to 55-53 with 33 seconds remaining. USF struggled overall at the free-throw line (16-for-27), but went 10-for-10 in the final 1:57.
"I thought we closed well," Heath said.
Brock added 14 points for USF, while Musa Abdul-Aleem contributed 11, including a 3-for-4 night from 3-point range. Sherrod Wright had 22 points for George Mason.
Zach LeDay's free throw with 5:12 left gave USF its largest lead, 49-36, but George Mason went on a 17-6 run to make it excruciating down the stretch.
"George Mason is a good pressure defense team and we were without our best pressure-release guy (Collins)," Heath said. "We could've folded. That was a really physical game, but we did what we needed to do (at the critical moments)."
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, USF's leading scorer (12.7), had just three points. Rudd, named national player of the week by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, was limited to just six points on 2-for-9 shooting.
"I give the kid (Rudd) credit because he didn't put his head down," said Patriots coach Paul Hewitt. "Obviously, the injury (to Collins) looked pretty serious. I hope he's healthy for the rest of the season."
Physical adversity is nothing new for USF. Collins has been laboring with a calf injury. Rudd's status is now uncertain. Heath doesn't expect Noriega or Hawkins back for UCF. White is a possibility.
"We've just got to keep stepping up," Poland said.
SOUTH FLORIDA 61,
GEORGE MASON 57