tampabay.com

USF pulls off huge upset

The Bulls top No. 18 Charlotte, their first win over a ranked team in more than a decade.

By GREG AUMAN
Published March 6, 2005


TAMPA - Before Saturday's game, USF's starting trio of Terrence Leather, Brian Swift and Marlyn Bryant had all the usual souvenirs of Senior Night, with framed pictures, basketballs autographed by the team and bouquets of flowers for their mothers.

Two hours later, they left with a truly memorable keepsake, ending their home careers in jubilation as the Bulls upset No. 18 Charlotte with a rousing 85-73 victory.

"This is what we've been dreaming about doing for a long time," said Leather, who had a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds. "I'm just glad for Marlyn, Swift and Brandon (Brigman), to just go out on top, to leave the Sun Dome on top, I'm happy for them."

One of the biggest upsets in USF's history, the win is the Bulls' first against a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 since 1992 against Tulane. Twice since 1998, the Bulls have beaten teams ranked in the coaches' poll, but never with the emotion and excitement of Saturday's finale.

"I think this will be remembered for a long time," said Bryant, who threw himself into the stands twice chasing loose balls and finished with a double-double. "We were supposed to place last (in conference), and people didn't think we'd get any wins. In all actuality, nobody thought we'd be where we are tonight."

A crowd of 3,988 savored the final seconds, and much of the student section stormed the court, with players running back into the arena to join them. Swift was carried off his home court for the last time on the shoulders of his fans.

"To win against those type odds, on Senior Night, what a way to send your seniors off," said coach Robert McCullum, whose team hadn't beaten a team with a winning record all season.

USF (12-15, 5-11) trailed 7-0 but stormed back to lead 22-15, and its seniors scored 26 of the Bulls' first 28 points. They weren't the only contributors, however, as when the Bulls closed the half on a 13-3 run to lead 41-28 at the break, underclassmen accounted for all the scoring in that run.

"They played with great passion, the way you'd expect a team to play on Senior Night," Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. "They just weren't going to be denied."

Charlotte (21-6, 12-4) rallied back from a 17-point second-half deficit, getting three 3-pointers from guard Brendan Plavich in a span of 84 seconds. USF's lead was 52-46 with 14:36 to play and three key Bulls had four fouls each, including Leather.

USF started the night thin, with starting guard Collin Dennis out with a toe injury and Brigman sidelined by a knee injury early in the game. The foul trouble would get worse, with four players with four fouls with 6:03 to play. After center Solomon Jones and Marius Prekevicius fouled out, USF had six players left for the final 2:34, including two with four fouls.

Charlotte cut the lead to 77-73 with 1:50 to play, but Bryant got two offensive rebounds and scored on a putback to put the Bulls up six with 1:20 left, then went 4-for-4 at the line in the final minute to put the game away.

"Outside of us, we don't think anybody thought we could win this game, or even keep it close, let alone beat them by double digits," said Swift, who scored 19 points and had six assists.

USF now goes to Memphis for the C-USA tournament, where the Bulls will have the 11th seed and open play Wednesday against sixth-seeded Houston, which beat USF 68-50 three weeks ago.

"I can't think of a better way to go to Memphis," McCullum said. "To win over a top 20 team, in the final home game for your seniors. The way they did it, I can't think of a better way."