TAMPA — The most amazing play in perhaps the most amazing comeback in USF basketball history will be remembered as a tying 3-pointer with .2 seconds left by freshman Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, completing a comeback from nine points down with 40 seconds to play in the Bulls' 109-105 overtime win Saturday at Providence.
And though 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 dived in front of the Bulls bench, tapping the ball back in Jones' direction. Jones took a step back to the 3-point line. He already had a career-high 37 points, including two baskets in the final 19 seconds of regulation, 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 he 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 .2 seconds left. It happened so fast that the official scorebook credits Jones with the assist.
Heath admired Jones' unselfishness as much as anything he showed on a career night.
"(Jones) could have easily fired up a 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 was at home against Alabama and down 16 or 17 in the second half, but that team chipped away over time, nothing like Saturday's 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."
THIS AND THAT: Skip Holtz's five new assistants, including three from his staff at East Carolina, will all make at least $185,000 in 2010. Assistants Todd Fitch and Mark Snyder, expected to be named as offensive and defensive coordinators, will each make $210,000. … With home games split among three venues — Red McEwen Field on campus, the Yankees' Steinbrenner Field and the University of Tampa — USF's baseball team will play in 11 stadiums in the state of Florida this season.
Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at twitter.com/gregauman.