Biggest ever: Bulls knock off No. 8 Marquette
TAMPA -- USF had been there before, with a high-ranked opponent on the ropes in the closing seconds, needing one shot, one last stop, only to see history slip away.
Facing a No. 8 Marquette team that was the last remaining Big East team undefeated in conference play, the Bulls got that shot, then got that stop, picking up a historic upset Friday night in the Sun Dome.
Sophomore guard Dominique Jones hit a layup with 15 seconds left to put USF ahead, and then the Bulls saw not one but two Marquette shots bounce out in the final two seconds. The 57-56 win is USF's first ever against a top-10 team in 38 seasons of basketball, a landmark victory before a crowd of 5,316 fans.
"It's very special, one of the more special wins I've ever had," said coach Stan Heath, who had been 0-10 against ranked teams at USF. "I don't want this to be the last one. I'd like to have more conversations like this in the future."
Down one, Marquette (20-3, 9-1) called a timeout with 10 seconds remaining, and Heath chose a man-to-man defense, hoping it would limit second-shot opportunities for Marquette. The Golden Eagles' top scorer, guard Jerel McNeal, fouled out with 54 seconds left, so guard Wesley Matthews got the call for Marquette. He drove to the basket and saw his layup bounce off the rim, and forward Lazar Hayward got a good look at a putback, but it too bounced out.
"I'm really surprised that shot didn't go in," Heath said. "He had a close tip. I don't know, but God was with us today. We had a little favor, but we did enough things well to give ourselves a chance."
USF (8-14, 3-7) was methodical on offense and persistent on defense, holding Marquette to 25 points below its scoring average, holding the Golden Eagles to 4-of-24 shooting on 3-pointers.
The Bulls, who led by 10 in the first half, trailed 47-42 with eight minutes left when senior guard Jesus Verdejo took over, scoring USF's next 11 points. He used his speed in transition, getting two fast-break layups, then hitting a 3-pointer that bounced off the rim and in.
"This is for the fans -- they've been here the longest and this is for them," said Verdejo, who finished with 21 points, his most ever in a Big East game.
Marquette went 10-for-23 on free throws, and McNeal made one of two shots with 1:14 left to give the Golden Eagles a 56-55 lead. Jones got McNeal to foul out with 54 seconds left, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. After forcing a Marquette turnover, USF got a layup from Jones and foul with 15 seconds left, but he again missed the free throw, keeping it a one-point game.
"When I missed them, I told everybody 'I'm sorry I missed them. Just buckle down on D with me. We've got 10 seconds,'" said Jones, who scored 15 points. "'Zeus (Verdejo) was like 'Hey, we've got your back.' That's when the team came together and got a stop."
USF went into Friday's game 0-31 against top-10 teams, with the previous highest-ranked team to lose to the Bulls a No. 15 Tulane team in 1992. Their three Big East wins match the most in any of their previous three seasons in the conference. The Bulls stay home to face Providence on Tuesday night.