Deconstructing key play in 'special' comeback
TAMPA -- The most amazing play in perhaps the most amazing comeback in USF basketball history will be remembered as a game-tying 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left by freshman Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, completing a comeback from nine points down with 40 seconds to play in the Bulls' overtime win Saturday at Providence.
And while Fitzpatrick had made only one 3-pointer all season, making his shot all the more incredible, coach Stan Heath will also remember the three players who got their hands on the ball in the frantic seconds before Fitzpatrick's shot.
"Each one of those players was special there," Heath said Tuesday.
The Bulls had just pulled within three points on a quick floater by guard Dominique Jones, who would finish the night with 46 points, a school record and the second-most in any game in Big East history. Jones, playing close to the baseline, got a hand on Providence's inbounds pass, and the ball bounced toward senior walk-on Ryan Kardok.
Kardok played only three minutes in Saturday's game, and was only in the game because center Jarrid Famous had fouled out with 25 seconds left. Seeing the loose ball, he dove in front of the Bulls' bench, tapping the ball back in Jones' direction. Jones took a step back to the 3-point line, and already had a career-high 37 points, including two baskets in the final 19 seconds of the game, but with a defender in his face, he lofted a pass to point guard Chris Howard in the backcourt.
Howard leaped to catch the pass with six seconds left, turned, took a dribble and two steps and went up, but with a defender on him, passed left to Fitzpatrick with four seconds left. The fifth-year senior, playing in his 58th Big East game, trusted a freshman still playing in his first month of conference basketball to hit an open shot he'd barely ever made in a game.
Fitzpatrick, whose first career 3-pointer came from the same spot on the court two games earlier, hesitated for a split-second, then fired the 3-pointer, which went through the net with 0.2 seconds left. It happened so fast that the official scorebook credits Jones with the assist. Heath admired his unselfishness as much as anything he showed on a career night.
"(Jones) could have easily fired up hard, hard shot, but he had the trust and awareness to make another pass to Chris Howard, who then made another pass to Toarlyn," he said.
The rest is, by comparison, a footnote, with Jones adding nine points in overtime to seal only the third road win ever in 38 Big East road games for the Bulls. Ask Heath what his best-ever comeback was before Saturday, and he has foggy details -- his Arkansas team at home against Alabama, down 16 or 17 in the second half, but his team chipped away over time, nothing like Saturday's memorable 40-second frenzy.
"That was a tremendous comeback, but it just didn't show how much we were able to get done in a very short amount of time," Heath said. "(Saturday) was a first, and very special."