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South Florida hands Marquette first Big East defeat

Feb 7, 2009 - 6:17 AM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Marquette's first Big East Conference loss came against an unlikely opponent.

Riding a 12-game winning streak, the eighth-ranked Golden Eagles missed three shots in the lane in the final seconds and suffered a 57-56 defeat to South Florida on Friday.

The Bulls entered the game with two conference wins, both against DePaul, and had never beaten a top-10 team in the program's history.

"That was a great win for our program," South Florida coach Stan Heath said. "Hopefully it is the first of many. Marquette is a great team and a lot of things went right for us down the end of the game."

Dominique Jones changed that with a floating layup with 15 seconds left that gave the Bulls a 57-56 lead. Jones was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.

Marquette called a timeout with 10 seconds to go and Wesley Matthews drove to the rim and missed a layup. The Golden Eagles had two put-back chances rim out before the horn.

"I thought South Florida played really well." Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "Their three guards were very difficult for us to handle. They also did a great job defensively changing things up."

Jesus Verdejo scored 21 points for South Florida (8-14, 3-7 Big East) and Jones added 15.

Jerel McNeal had 22 points for Marquette (20-3, 9-1) before fouling out with 54 seconds to go.

McNeal split a pair from the line with 1:14 left to give the Golden Eagles a 56-55 lead but was whistled for his fifth foul on the Bulls' next possession when reaching in as Jones drove into the lane.

"That was a huge play for us," Heath said. "We got their best player out of the game."

Jones missed the first of a one-and-one, but Marquette missed a 3-pointer and South Florida got out on the break and Jones capitalized on a nice step-through move and banked what ended up being the game-winner high off the glass.

"We had a 2-2 and I just thought I could take my man," Jones said. "I drove and got some contact and put it up and it went in."

Chris Howard added 10 points for South Florida, which snapped a three-game losing skid.

"We never give up. We never quit. We always keep fighting," Verdejo said. "Now teams know that when they come to the Sun Dome, they're going to have a fight for 40 minutes."

Matthews and Dominic James each scored 10 points for Marquette, which had a bad night shooting all around. The Golden Eagles shot 39 percent (21-of-54) from the field, 4-of-24 from the arc and 10-of-23 from the line.

"It's hard to win games when you shoot from the field the way we did tonight," Williams said. "Credit them, they did a great job, it was a big win for them."