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 No. 8 Marquette, the last remaining team undefeated in Big East play, the Bulls got that shot then got that stop, picking up a historic upset Friday night in the Sun Dome.
Dominique Jones hit a layup with 15 seconds left to put USF ahead. 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 over a Top 10 team in 38 seasons of basketball and 28 tries, a landmark victory before a crowd of 5,316.
"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, the Golden Eagles (20-3, 9-1) called a timeout with 10 seconds left, and Heath chose a man-to-man defense, hoping it would limit second shots. Their top scorer, Jerel McNeal, fouled out with 54 seconds left, so Wesley Matthews got the call.
He drove to the basket and saw his layup bounce off the rim. 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. We had a little favor, but we did enough things well to give ourselves a chance."
USF, whose three Big East wins match the most in any of its three seasons in the league, was methodical on offense and persistent on defense, holding Marquette to 25 points below its average and 4-of-24 shooting on 3-pointers.
The Bulls (8-14, 3-7), who led by as many as 10 in the first half, trailed 47-42 with eight minutes left when Jesus Verdejo took over, scoring their next 11 points. He used his speed in transition, getting two fastbreak layups, then hit a 3-pointer that bounced off the rim and in.
"This is for the fans. They've been here the longest," said Verdejo, who finished with 21 points, his most 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 it a 56-55 lead. Jones forced McNeal's fifth foul but missed the front end of a one-and-one.
After forcing a 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. "Zeus (Verdejo) was like, 'Hey, we've got your back.' That's when the team came together and got a stop."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]
A clutch win (finally)
Five times before Friday under Stan Heath, USF lost to a Top 25 team after keeping it close late:
Date Opp. Down Time
Jan. 24, '09 Vill. 2 1:33
Jan. 2, '09 Syr. 3 1:33
March 8, '08 N.D. 2 3:06
Feb. 16, '08 Conn. 30:49 *
Jan. 29, '08 at Marq. 2 4:25