The University of South Florida Bulls defeated the DePaul Blue Demons 77-65 at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago on Friday night, claiming the 2019 College Basketball Invitational Championship.
Sophomore guard David Collins led the way for USF with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
DePaul was without senior guard Eli Cain, who dislocated his elbow and wrist in Game 2, but got back redshirt sophomore guard Devin Gage after he was cleared from a head injury. Gage started the game and tied Collins to lead all scorers with 19 points.
The Bulls held a 37-20 lead at the 6:22 mark in the first half, but DePaul ripped off a 14-2 run to make it a much more manageable 39-34 at halftime. The Blue Demons kept it close for the majority of the second half, but they were unable to gain a lead before USF pulled away again—this time, for good.
On Monday, USF head coach Brian Gregory laid out to the Tampa Bay Times' Joey Knight the long-term plan behind entering the pay-for-play CBI:
"We talk about building this thing. And you look at the other programs that have played in this tournament and what they've done after. We're trying to follow that same path. ... The facts are, we weren't good enough or experienced enough to go to the NCAA Tournament this year, or the NIT.
"So this was our next-best option for us."
Per Knight, seven of 11 former CBI champions have won at least 20 games the following season, while three of them reached the NCAA Tournament. Most notably, VCU won the 2010 CBI, and in 2010-11, VCU made it to the Final Four.
While aiming for next year's Final Four is aspirational, USF can be encouraged by the progress the program is making in just two seasons under Gregory.
After the Bulls clinched the CBI title, Knight relayed that USF winning 14 more games (24-14) than last season (10-22) is the NCAA's largest win improvement in 2018-19.
Gregory and USF will only lose three seniors, none of whom started on Friday night, making USF a potential March Cinderella in the near future.