As long as USF can work out a few kinks over the next few weeks, the current version of the Sun Dome hosted its final game last night against the Pittsburgh Panthers. In honor of the old place, the four of us have each written a story about our most memorable game at the Dome.
by Ken DeCelles
While being able to "rush the court" after the Notre Dame win in 2007 was a great moment, my favorite game at the Dome was our victory over Syracuse on Valentine's Day 2008. This game is special to me because it was the night Dominique Jones became the closer for USF basketball.
USF lost the previous game to Marquette in one of the worst ways you can imagine. Chris Howard had the ball with the chance to win, turned it over to Dominic James, and James raced down the length of the court to lay it in at the buzzer. The sight of that random Marquette fan standing on the railing over the student section mocking all of us in his blue and gold rugby polo shirt is ingrained in my mind, and will probably be the last thing I see before I die.
So it came to a huge surprise that the Bulls raced out to a 19-point lead in the first half, led by Jesus Verdejo, Kentrell Gransberry, and a talented freshman named Dominique Jones. If they were playing NBA Jam, DoJo would have burned the house down after going 7-for-11 in the first half, including 3 treys. Syracuse got the lead down to 14 by the end of the half, but everyone in orange wondered, who the heck was this guy wearing number 0, and where did he come from.
The 2nd half started the way the 1st half had, and the Bulls stretched the lead out to 20. Syracuse targeted Jones, but it gave guys like Gransberry, Verdejo, and even Adamu Saaka open opportunities, and they delivered. Syracuse would try to cut into the lead, but each time they got the lead down to 12 or 14, the Bulls found the open man and would stretch it back out to 17.
And then it happened.
With about 5:30 left in the game, Paul Harris went on a personal 5-0 run get the lead to 12, and you could see the momentum shift to the Orange. After trading points, Harris once again hit a jumper to get it to 10, and the Syracuse fans in attendance started cheering for what seemed like the first time all night. A Jonny Flynn layup and free throws by Donte Greene and Scoop Jardine followed, and the lead was down to 4 with just 1:30 left.
Everyone in orange were going nuts. Every single Bulls fan in attendance knew that somehow USF would find a way to lose this game.
Syracuse fouled Jones to try to cut it to a one-possession game, but Dominique calmly sank both to stretch the lead back to six. A Kristof Ongenaet three cut the lead in half, but once again Jones was fouled and he sank both to give the Bulls a 5-point lead. Harris missed a lay up for Syracuse. Jones was fouled again, and he sank both. Flynn missed a three, and Chris Howard got into the act and made both of his to make the lead nine. Syracuse tried to make a miracle comeback, but they kept missing, and they kept fouling DoJo. Dominique made four more free throws to stretch the lead out to 11, which is how it ended.
As I walked out of the Sun Dome that night, I knew that DoJo had figured out how to close out games. Jones finished with 29 points, and most importantly, he attempted 10 free throws in the last 90 seconds of the game, and he hit all 10. Earlier in the year, Dom had a couple of opportunities to win a contest, but he fell short. After his first free throw, something clicked, and he hurdled that mental obstacle that was stopping him earlier in the year. As we saw over the next two years, Jones was the guy in crunch time situations, and you knew that we were going to be ok if he had the ball to end the game.
by Collin Sherwin
I now understand why old people lose their ability to remember details.
Because if you had asked me a week ago, I would have said Altron Jackson only scored two points during the USF vs. Florida game on December 8, 2001. (At least I got the date right.) But box scores don't lie, and 'Tron actually had eight that day. I also would have said Will McDonald ended the first half with a dunk, but Voodoo checked his VHS copy of this game and told me I was wrong (he also says I transposed this game with the Memphis game later that season). So after well over a decade of Bulls athletics, many of the games have run together on me.
But the feeling of that day will last forever.
A lot more after the jump:
These are the things I think I remember: A rainstorm the night before meant the Greenbergopolis tents we had set up for the season inspired by my friend and former football walk-on Terry Lucas, a.k.a. "The Sheriff" were awash in beer, booze, and rainwater. An impromptu Slip 'n' Slide made its way to the grass outside the arena. The band Nickelback showed up randomly after seeing or hearing what was going on outside. Somewhere around 1000 people came in and out of that sacred patch of grass north of the Sun Dome, and enjoyed the best outdoor party our emerging campus had ever seen. President Genshaft stood in the bed of my friend Brent's pickup truck, complete with Confederate flag motif, and drank a beer out of a Solo cup. And our new favorite golf game where you had to bounce a golf ball with a sand wedge off the outside of the arena before it lands. Closest to the pin won. And yes, there were injuries.
My fraternity brothers and many others had done all we could to make the night before that game something special. We put out flyers, and tried to talk it up into the biggest party we could make it. The game was on ESPN2, Dickie V was there (he even got the obligatory photo op from our tents), and it had all the makings of a great matchup between two good teams early in the year. The Bulls were coming off a 20-point thrashing of a really good California team, and a sort-of revenge win on the road against Northern Illinois, who had beaten us on a last-second field goal in our first-ever game as an FBS football team.
The exact details of the night before were fuzzy. One because I hadn't slept the night before we got out there, and also because there were copious amounts of alcohol consumed. I remember during the rain trying to get some sleep, but it was pointless with the music and chaos happening all around us. If I recall correctly, we had put a sign-in list together for seating priority, and I got the ninth bracelet issued to get into the Sun Dome so I could guarantee myself a spot in the lower bowl center court section.
And I know I got that seat because anytime you see pics of a sold-out Sun Dome, it was from this game, and I can see myself wearing that goofy green and yellow Cat in the Hat/bandana combination. It was the last time the place was full of green and gold, and that's only because single game tickets weren't available. If you wanted a single game ticket, you had to buy a six-game partial season ticket package. The Gators weren't too happy about that, and haven't played us in men's basketball at the Dome since.
Finally, the game was upon us, and I was standing in the front row ready to see my school finally take its place amongst the college basketball elite. Thirty plus hours without sleep be damned, I was so geeked up I could have run a marathon. This was the season that Seth Greenberg said the "sleeping giant" that is USF basketball would finally awaken. An hour before the game, both teams walked on the court to warm up. And the chant started, like a firestorm that had no chance of being controlled.
""F*** THE GAT-ORS!!" (CLAP, CLAP, CLAPCLAPCLAP)
No one loves trash talk from student sections more than me, but it made me cringe. Be funny, be creative, but don't be profane. It was crass and pointless. And it showed our student section, like our basketball team, still had a long way to go.
The game itself was typical of many at that time. The Bulls were down one at halftime, and at that point I would have bet my life on us kicking it into another gear in the second half, and pulling off the biggest upset in school history. All the starts seemed perfectly aligned. And then Matt Bonner went 13-for-16 from the floor. We turned it over 20 times. Altron stormed off the floor at the final buzzer, didn't shake hands, and got suspended for the next game against Syracuse for it. Until his replacement Jimmy Baxter doesn't play well, and Greenberg subbed in Jackson and he played 33 minutes anyway. One person who was there has always told me, "That's the exact moment when a team that should have made the NCAAs had their season go straight to hell."
And except for a game against Memphis later that season, Dickie V hasn't called a USF game since.
I was also one of the few that stayed for the women's game between the same teams afterwards, but was so exhausted I actually started nodding off in the stands. Jose Fernandez was still trying to pick up the ashes from the Jerry Ann Winters scandal, and his team was completely outclassed. Watching my eventual college roommate and BFF Jen Kline spend part of that game trying to guard Vanessa Hayden was pretty funny. Kliney at this point is 6'1" and 120 pounds dripping wet. This is Vanessa. Hayden dropped 31 and 13, and USF lost 90-66. Kliney got four blocks because she figured her best chance was to let Hayden get by her, then try to swipe it from behind as she attacked he basket. That's generally not a strategy for long-term success.
But what I remember most from that day is that if you give the fans of USF a reason to hope, they will come out and support their team. The students and the community showed up that day, and they did so to support their basketball team. At their school. It was also a day that signaled that our time as a commuter school was coming to a close. People were excited to be a part of something. We knew something special was happening.
Though it ended up being things besides basketball that made USF a more traditional campus (big time football, more full-time undergraduate students, higher academic standards that made people proud to attend), that day was an important point in the evolution of a campus. That line of students extending from the student entrance, around the Campus Recreation Center, and all the way down the street, went to support THEIR team. USF was no longer a secondary choice; you came here because you wanted to be here. And we had a college atmosphere that could compete with anyone. Despite the score, that's what I'll always remember.
by Voodoo 5
I wasn't at the all-nighter for the Florida game -- you just can't take a Saturday off in December when you work retail like I did at the time, and I barely got to the Sun Dome in time for tipoff. (At least I finagled one of the bright gold T-shirts they gave to everyone in the lower bowl... and yes, I still have it.) But I was there for the other one, against Cincinnati a month and a half later.
I showed up with absolutely no plan. No tent, no sleeping equipment, no food or drink, nothing. It was the best plan I could have ever come up with. It wasn't on the level of the Florida party, but it was still a great scene out there -- at least 100 people partying until the sun went up. There was food, there was drink, there was me destroying some dude at Madden 2002 at 4 in the morning, there was the University Police forcing a bunch of us to clean up after all the freeloaders who left trash all over the side lot of the Sun Dome right before sunrise. There was a humid, seemingly interminable wait in line to get in since the gates didn't open until 10:30 for a noon tipoff. And then finally the doors opened and everyone raced inside to get the best seats they could find.
This was back when Bob Huggins coached Cincinnati, and it seemed like every year he had one player or another getting themselves caught up with the law. This time out, it was Donald Little, maybe the biggest piece of work ever to play for the Bearcats during their halfway-house days. Little had been involved in a bar fight the previous year and was briefly thrown off the team until he pled guilty to a lesser charge, at which point he was reinstated. (A few months later Little was charged with torturing and plotting to kill his roommate over a debt, which finally got him permanently removed from the Bearcats roster.)
Someday Toro will tell the story of what happened at that year's Conference USA tournament in Cincinnati. But on this day it was limited to some well-coordinated chants, and a brilliant sign from the USF superfan known simply as Doc. (You might have seen him at the DePaul game on Saturday in his typical gameday outfit -- green vest, green shirt, gold tie, and Panama Jack hat with bulls horns sticking out of it.) For the Cincinnati game, he brought a sign with handcuffs on it that read "CINCINNATI CHAMPIONSHIP RINGS".
The game itself was not that memorable because it followed the usual Seth Greenberg Big Game At Home script. Team hangs around for awhile, then goes on a long, slow fade in the second half to come up short. This time the Bulls were still in the game at halftime and even took a small lead a few minutes into the second half, but the Bearcats got all kinds of whistles and hit their free throws and outside shots. Final score, Cincinnati 78, USF 68.
Actually what I remember the most was the dickhead who rolled into the USF student section in Cincinnati gear and taunted USF students for having the gall to do something like root for their own team in a big game. Of course he waited until the last minute of the game, while Altron Jackson was fouling out on a horrendous call and the Bearcats were icing the game at the line. I still haven't let that go. It must be how Mick Cronin feels when The Big O is yelling at him from his seat and everyone in Fifth Third Arena can hear it. Just nauseating. Wherever you are, fronting Cincinnati fan, screw you. Just typing all this got me pissed off again. Let's move on. I'm done.
My greatest Sun Dome memory occurred on March 2, 1996.
It was USF's first season in Conference USA. Which was a victory in itself, since USF was intially thought to be left out of the Great Midwest-Metro Conference merger that produced C-USA. Virginia Tech, Dayton, and Virginia Commonwealth were left out instead. (One wonders if they ever second-guessed that decision.)
But it was also a time of optimism. The Bulls were coming off their best post-season ever, an Elite 8 trip in the NIT, weren't far removed from their two NCAA trips, and had the great Chucky Atkins entering his senior year.
By the time conference play was winding down, USF was 1-12 in conference play, longtime coach Bobby Paschal had resigned, and much of the team had quit, leaving USF with only seven players for Senior Day. The opponent was then-rival UAB, who had thumped the shorthanded Bulls in Birmingham nine days before. By the way, it was also the Homecoming game, in those pre-football days.
The game wasn't all that memorable. After USF took the lead early in the second half, UAB would chip away, then Chucky would make a play to push it back out. With about three minutes left, he hit two free throws, and then a three-pointer, to push USF's lead from 5 to an insurmountable 10.
With the game decided, it was time for the usual Senior Day theatrics. The announcer made a big show out of each senior leaving the court for the last time. I'm still not sure how they did that, since there were three seniors and only two subs. But with 34 seconds left, it was time for Chucky to leave the court for the last time. Like everything else in his career, his exit was going to be something special.
He strolled to mid-court, knelt, and... kissed the Bulls logo at half court. To thunderous, appreciative applause from the few thousand who were there.
That scene sent a chill down my spine. It was so the opposite of everything I'd been told about USF before I went there. I was told it was a indifferent, mediocre commuter school. It wasn't true. People loved this place. Great people loved this place. And that was the day I began to love it too.