WASHINGTON (AP) — With a minute to play in perhaps the biggest win in South Florida history, the star player bellowed to the Georgetown crowd: “Y’all come watch Dominique Jones play!”
When the horn sounded, Jones flexed his muscles, extolled the virtues of his school to anyone within earshot and told the school’s radio crew his “heart was beating too fast” with excitement to do a postgame interview.
Give Jones some slack in the right-to-brag department. After four years as a pushover, South Florida is a Big East doormat no more.
The Bulls’ 72-64 victory over the seventh-ranked Hoyas on Wednesday night gives them their first road victory over a ranked team in 18 years and pushes their record to .500 in the toughest conference in the country.
“I’ve done been everywhere the past two years — Big East — they see us lose and they just say all kind of things,” the junior guard said. “I’m not a person of revenge, but it feels good to look in those same people’s faces, like, ‘Hey, I’m laughing at the end of it.'”
Jones scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half as the Bulls (15-7, 5-5), who had never won more than two straight Big East games before this season, now have a run of four that also includes a 70-61 win over then-No. 17 Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Bulls have five Big East wins in a season for the first time since joining the conference in 2005. Their last road win over a ranked team came against a No. 15 Tulane team on Feb. 24, 1992, but that one pales compared to the comeback victory against a Georgetown team that had dispatched No. 10 Duke just a few days earlier.
“I’ll be brutally honest — I’m really amazed with our team,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “It’s the best win in our school history, to beat an outstanding team like Georgetown. I have no idea if they were enjoying Duke or looking at Villanova, but we played really well, really hard. We became the more aggressive team in the second half.”
Greg Monroe had 21 points and eight rebounds — none in the second half — before fouling out with 2:52 to play for the Hoyas (16-5, 6-4), who blew a 13-point first-half lead. Georgetown stumbled in a trap game sandwiched between the president-attended win over the Blue Devils and an upcoming Saturday showdown against the second-ranked Wildcats.
Monroe cited a lack of focus for the loss, but he said it wasn’t because of the two games surrounding it.
“I don’t know exactly what happened,” Monroe said. “We definitely wasn’t looking backward and we definitely wasn’t looking forward. As a team, we have to be more focused to win games like this.”
Austin Freeman scored 21 points for the Hoyas, who shot 36 percent in the second half — 24 percent worse than in the first. The Hoyas also missed half of their free throws, making only 11 of 22 for the game, and committed 14 turnovers.
“We didn’t control the things we can control, being foul shots and some of those turnovers,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said in terse postgame comments.
The Bulls trailed 35-22 late in the first half and 35-26 at halftime due to 60 percent shooting by Georgetown, but the Hoyas went cold in the second half and Jones began to show the flair that has him averaging 35 points during the winning streak.
Jones, who recently scored a school-record 46 points against Providence, went 6 of 9 in the second half, played 39 of 40 minutes, and finished with eight rebounds and four assists for the Bulls, who shot 65 percent after halftime.
That was quite a change of pace from the first half, when Jones missed his first three shots before scoring on a putback more than 12 minutes into the game.
“He got off to a really slow start. I’m pulling out my hair — all the hair that I have,” said Heath, who is bald. “And saying ‘What play can I run?’ Because if we don’t get him involved, we’re done — we’re toast. Once he got going, boy, he was really hard to stop. Obviously we feed off of him.”
Early in the second half, Jones scored seven straight points for his team with a driving layup, a steal and dunk and a three-point play. Mike Mercer tied the game at 42 with two free throws with 12:28 to play, and Jones made a free throw following a steal to give the Bulls their first lead since 10-9.
At one point, South Florida had outscored Georgetown 30-13 in the second half and held a 56-48 lead with 6:28 to play. Here’s an idea how things were going: Jones banked in a 3-pointer at one end, while at the other Monroe had a free throw wiped out by a lane violation.
The Hoyas finally stopped the visitors’ momentum with a jumper from Freeman and a basket and two free throws by Monroe to cut the deficit to two.
But Monroe was soon gone from the game, getting his fifth foul for contact on Jarrid Famous when Famous was trying to make a putback after catching an air ball. Georgetown never regained the lead, and South Florida had its landmark win, one that had Jones bouncing around with joy.
“He’s an emotional kid. He’s a great kid, too,” Heath said. “It’s not about him. It really is about doing something special at SF. We haven’t done anything — he wants to lift the program up.”