Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike always tells his players they can win a game with a rebound just as easily as a basket, so he knew just how to rib senior guard Jerrell Thompson during Thursday afternoon's film session.
In the final 101 seconds of Sacred Heart's incredible come-from-behind 56-55 win over Hartford on Wednesday night, Thompson scored seven points, made a game-saving steal and then delivered the pass that set up the game-winning free throw. About the only thing he didn't do was grab a game-changing rebound.
"I kidded him that he screwed up because he didn't win the game with a rebound," Bike said, chuckling. "He made two foul shots, a two, a three-point shot, a steal and a pass that led to the last foul shot. So he did everything except rebounding, but the kid still contributed tremendously, didn't he?"
Indeed, all Thompson did was finish off one of the more improbable comebacks in recent college basketball history. Sacred Heart trailed Hartford 51-31 with 8:17 remaining in the second half and then outscored the Hawks 25-4 the rest of the way, taking its first lead of the game with two-tenths of a second left on Stan Dulaire's game-winning free throw.
After Thompson tied the game for the first time with a 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining, he set up the winning sequence by stripping Hartford's Joe Zeglinski on his way to the rim with just two seconds on the clock. Thompson then fed a streaking Dulaire, who drew an intentional foul from Hartford's Clayton Brothers with two-tenths of a second left on the game clock.
"I've been coaching a long time and I'm not sure I've ever had a game where I never led until the last two-tenths of a second and still won," Bike said. "We'd been trailing the whole game. To finally go ahead in the last two-tenths of a second is nice."
Duke and Kentucky share the record for largest second-half comeback in NCAA history, the Blue Devils rallying from 31 down with 19 minutes to play to beat Tulane in 1950 and the Wildcats storming back from the same deficit in the final 16 minutes against LSU in 1994.
Sacred Heart's comeback wasn't as big as those, nor did it occur in a rivalry game like Princeton's 27-point rally to beat Penn in 1999, nor was it in the Sweet 16 like UCLA erasing a 12-point deficit in the final 6:46 against Gonzaga in 2006. Nonetheless, that shouldn't diminish the unlikeliness of the Pioneers coming back to win a game that was so one-sided most of their fans had left by the time they began their rally.
When Sacred Heart's deficit ballooned to 20 with 8:17 remaining, the Pioneers were shooting 11 of 33 from the field and 1 of 17 from 3-point range. They only made 5 of 10 field goal attempts during the comeback, but they played stingy defense, sank two 3-pointers and made 13 of 16 free throws.
"At one point in the game, I said, 'Fellas, I don't know if I can tell you anything to change. We just need to play better and start making a few more shots,'" Bike recalled. "Everything fell into place. We've got to admit we got a little lucky and they got a little unlucky."
Sacred Heart's victory was just its second of the season and came over a 2-7 Hartford team, so there was no wild celebration or Gatorade bath for Bike after the comeback was complete. Still, Bike acknowledged players were far more talkative and upbeat during Thursday's film session than they had been after losses.
"Guys laughed more at my wisecracks today than they usually do," Bike joked. "Hopefully this is something we can build on."