"I told him I was nervous because the rap on me is that I don't play well in big-time games," Bozeman said by phone. "My dad told me that I've been a big-time player since I was eight years old and that I just needed to relax."
Bozeman's trademark swagger had returned by the waning seconds of Tuesday's Sun Belt title game against North Texas when Arkansas-Little Rock needed him to rescue his teammates from a potential crushing defeat.
Instead of attempting to get to the rim for a game-tying layup with the Trojans trailing by two points and time running out, Bozeman zoomed up court, nudged his defender ever so slightly to create space and then pulled up behind the 3-point arc. The senior guard's step-back 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left propelled Arkansas-Little Rock to a 64-63 victory and its first NCAA tournament berth in 21 years.
"I wanted to make history," Bozeman said. "I'm not a guy who likes going for ties. I like going for the win. I'm going to put the team on my back. I think of myself as a big-time player, and big-time players make big-time shots. I did that tonight."
Bozeman's bravado prevented North Texas from making its second straight NCAA tournament appearance and completed a surprising four-day run from Arkansas Little Rock. The fifth-seeded Trojans lost four of five games to end the regular season to fall to 7-9 in Sun Belt play, yet they ousted South Alabama, West Division champion Arkansas State and surging Middle Tennessee State before toppling North Texas.
Fittingly it took a late comeback for Arkansas-Little Rock to even give Bozeman an opportunity to be the hero. D'Andre Williams made a key steal and Matt Mouzy sank an important 3-pointer as the Trojans quickly rallied to get back within a bucket after North Texas had built a seven-point lead with less than two minutes remaining.
It's a storybook ending to Bozeman's circuitous college career that the Sun Belt player of the year knocked down the game-winning shot.
A onetime Ole Miss signee who backed out of his scholarship after Rod Barnes was fired in 2006, Bozeman instead enrolled at South Florida. He showed promise as a freshman but played sparingly as a sophomore, ultimate choosing to transfer back to his native Little Rock after South Florida fired coach Robert McCullum in 2007.
It stung Bozeman that some suggested he left South Florida because he wasn't good enough for the Big East, so he went to work at Arkansas Little Rock to prove critics wrong. He blossomed into a star with the Trojans, leading the team in scoring, assists and steals as a junior and then raising his scoring average to 16.3 points per game as a senior.
"A lot of people thought I left the Big East because I couldn't play at that level, but I knew the whole time I could," Bozeman said. "My dad always told me, 'Whether you stay at South Florida or leave, you need to be sure that's the right decision. You can't look back and have any regrets.' I told him I wanted to leave and it turned out to be a good situation."
Playing in the NCAA tournament has been a dream of Bozeman's, so it was only just sinking in what he'd accomplished Tuesday night about an hour after the final buzzer.
"We're always going to be remembered now," he said. "We wanted to make history, and we did tonight."
- North Texas
- Arkansas Little Rock