Fitzpatrick, a 6-foot-8 power forward, hit a 3-pointer for South Florida with 1:08 left in the game to give the Bulls a 57-53 lead. That was the Bulls' first field goal in more than 10 minutes and propelled South Florida to a 12-3 run to finish the game.
"We were pretty fatigued there at the end of the game and that shot was a huge boost," South Florida coach Stan Heath said. "It was a game of runs for both sides and fortunately we had the run that finished the game."
"Anytime I get an open look, Coach (Heath) gives me the green light, so I just let it go," Fitzpatrick said. "At that point in the game, it was a momentum changer and gave us the push to the finish line."
UCF, which had rallied from 13 points behind in the second half to tie the game at 53 on a free throw by Sykes, couldn't convert on its next four possessions and was forced to foul. South Florida went 8 for 8 from the line in the final minute to wrap up the game.
"We played hard and gave ourselves a chance at the end, but they made the big shots and we didn't," UCF coach Donnie Jones said. "We only went 8 for 16 from the free-throw line and you're not going to win games missing that many free throws. That's like committing eight turnovers."
South Florida led 49-36 after a layup by Poland with 11:53 left in the game, but the Bulls didn't get another field goal for more than 10 minutes, giving UCF a chance to rally.
The Knights charged back behind Sykes, who had eight points in a 9-0 run that tied the game at 53 with 2:29 left.
Fitzpatrick's 3-pointer stopped the run and South Florida pulled away at the free-throw line.
The first half set the tone for both teams.
Trailing 19-12 and stumbling badly at the offensive end the first 10 minutes of the game, UCF ran off 15 straight points to take a 27-19 lead. Clanton, who didn't get a shot off until hitting a 3-pointer with 6:12 left in the half, had seven points in the run, including a tomahawk jam that gave the Knights their biggest lead of the game.
However, the Knights didn't score the rest of the half and South Florida surged back in front. The Bulls, who missed their first seven attempts from 3-point range, hit their last three to go ahead 28-27. Musa Abdul-Aleem had the first two, and Fitzpatrick connected just before the buzzer to put South Florida ahead.
The Bulls started the second half on a 19-7 run fueled by a pair of 3-pointers from Poland and one from Rudd. Rudd ended the rally with an alley-oop dunk that made it 47-34 with 12:55 left in the game.