South Florida upsets Marquette
Jesus Verdejo scored 21 points and Dominique Jones made a driving layup with 15.9 seconds to go for a 57-56 victory that snapped Marquette’s 12-game winning streak and left the Big East without an unbeaten team in conference play.
“We kept telling each other, ’Just be focused. Keep playing as a team, keep believing in each other,”’ Verdejo said after USF (8-14, 3-7) improved to 9-79 all-time against ranked teams.
The Bulls had been 0-5 against ranked teams this season. Marquette became the highest ranked team to lose to them since No. 15 Tulane lost to USF at home on Feb. 24, 1992.
“I’m not only happy for our players, but our fans,” second-year coach Stan Heath said. “I know it’s been a long time and hopefully it’s the first of many for our students and community and everybody. Fortunately, a lot of things went right for us.”
The Bulls (8-14, 3-7) led by as many as 10, but needed nine points from Verdejo in a five-minute span of the second half to keep the Eagles (20-3, 9-1) from taking over the game.
Marquette’s Wesley Matthews missed a six-footer and Lazar Hayward’s putback rolled off the rim as time expired, dropping the Eagles into second in the Big East behind No. 1 Connecticut.
“At the end, I’m really surprised that shot didn’t go in,” Heath said. “He had a close tip.”
Jerel McNeal led Marquette with 22 points before fouling out in the final minute. Dominic James and Matthews had 11 apiece, however the cold-shooting Eagles hurt themselves by going 4-for-24 on 3-point attempts and 10-of-23 from the foul line.
“That’s as poor as we have played,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “They earned the victory. We earned the loss.”
Jones finished with 15 for USF, but his inability to make free throws in the last minute ensured Marquette would have a chance to win at the buzzer. The Bulls’ leading scorer with an 18.3-point average missed the front end of a 1-and-1 after McNeal drew his fifth foul with 54.1 seconds left, then failed to complete a three-point play on the basket that put USF up for good.
Marquette rallied from a 10-point deficit to trail 32-28 at the half. The Eagles used a 13-4 run to go up 47-42 with just over eight minutes left, but Verdejo scored South Florida’s next 11 points to keep the Bulls close.
“We never give up. We never quit. We always keep fighting,” Verdejo said. “Now teams have got to know that whenever they come to the Sun Dome, they’re going to have a fight for 40 minutes.”
James was 1-for-9 from behind the arc and reserve Maurice Acker was 0-for-3, with his biggest miss coming on an open 3 that USF rebounded and turned into Jones’ go-ahead layup. Marquette shot 38.9 percent overall.
“They did a great job defensively, changing things up. We struggled to get in a rhythm,” Williams said. “We were much better in the second half on both ends of the floor, but it’s hard to win games when you shoot the way we did.”
McNeal has scored at least 20 in seven consecutive games and moved ahead of Butch Lee into second place on Marquette’s career scoring with 1,753 points — 20 behind the school record of 1,773 set by George Thompson from 1966-69.