Senior guard Jesus Verdejo was overwhelmed with emotion and coach Stan Heath gave a massive fist pump as South Florida pulled off the biggest upset in program history Friday night.
Sophomore Dominique Jones hit a crucial layup with 15.9 seconds remaining, and USF held on at the end to knock off No. 8 Marquette 57-56 at the Sun Dome in front of 5,316 — gaining its first win over a top-10 opponent.
“This is a great win for our program, and I’m not only happy for our players, but our fans,” Heath said. “I know it’s been a long time waiting. Marquette is an outstanding team, and fortunately, a lot of things went right for us.”
Marquette certainly had a golden opportunity to win at the end.
The Golden Eagles, down by one with 10 seconds left, had two open looks near the basket as time expired. However, guard Wesley Matthews’ layup clanked off the rim and forward Lazar Hayward’s putback missed.
“I’m really surprised that shot didn’t go in,” Heath said. “He had a close tip-in. I don’t know, but God was with us. We had a little favor, but we did enough things too well to give ourselves a chance.”
USF trailed by five with 8:13 remaining but was led by Verdejo’s late surge. Verdejo went 9-for-16 from the field and finished with 21 points. He scored 15 of the Bulls’ last 25 points.
Verdejo said it was one of the most rewarding wins of his career.
“This means a lot to me,” he said, teary-eyed after the game. “We just kept our focus and kept believing in each other, and the coaches gave me great confidence.”
With the win, the Bulls (8-14, 3-7) knocked Marquette (20-3, 9-1) off the top spot in the Big East and ended a 12-game winning streak — also breaking a 27-game USF losing streak against top-10 competition.
South Florida held Marquette to 38 percent from the field and 4-for-24 shooting from the three-point range. The Golden Eagles came into the game shooting 48 percent in conference play.
“We’re thankful for the first nine games that we won, and I think we’ve handled it in a mature way,” said MU coach Buzz Williams. “The key will be if we can handle this loss in a mature way. South Florida earned the victory, and we respect that.”
USF went on an 18-3 run and erased a slow start to take a 32-28 lead at halftime.
Heath said it was one of the biggest wins in his eight-year coaching career. While at Kent State, Heath defeated No. 2 seed Alabama 71-58 in the NCAA Tournament en route to an Elite Eight appearance in March of 2002.
“This is special — one of the more special wins I’ve had in my career,” he said. “I don’t want this to be the last one, though. I’d like to have more conversations like this in the future.”
USF has three league wins this season, the most for the team since joining the Big East, and Heath said they couldn’t have done it without Verdejo.
“(Jones) is going to be pretty steady out there all the time, but we’re so much better when we get Jesus going, maybe (forward) Gus (Gilchrist) going, that way we aren’t so one-dimensional,” he said.
USF will try for its fourth conference win Tuesday night when it hosts Providence at the Sun Dome.