Marc Daniels' From the Press Box: A Game to Remember

March 1, 2010

By Marc Daniels

Exhausting. Draining. Emotional. Mind-boggling. Never-ending. Dramatic. Crushing. Memorable. And I didn't even play.

But those are just some of the words that come to mind when looking back at Saturday night's game in Huntington between UCF and Marshall. UCF did not win and the loss was painful because of the effort. But in my 20-plus of broadcasting games, it ranks among the best I have witnessed.

Before the game even tipped off there was a big game buzz in the building. Marshall would draw its largest crowd of the season. And based on the first matchup between the two teams, there is no love lost. Add the fact that Marshall fans seem to want to beat UCF more than any other team in the league, it was rocking at the Henderson Center.

UCF's fans would be slightly outnumbered. But former UCF player Adam Gill and his dad, down from Ohio, would be joined by UCF basketball marketing director Jimmy Skiles, who brought some other black and gold faithful.

The first half saw UCF witness something they saw in the first matchup with Marshall - Herd guard Chris Lutz burying 3-pointers, lots of them. He had 19 first half points and Marshall rolled to a 17-point lead at the break, 49-32.

There would be no way UCF would rally. There was no chance to get back in the game. Marshall was doing everything right and the Knights were on the road in a tough place to play. Right? No chance at all to come back? Wrong.

A 10-2 run to start the second half pulled UCF within range. But Marshall still had a 12-point lead with 10:25 to play, 66-54 and led by 10, 73-63 with 4:25 left and many Marshall fans headed home thinking the game was over. But UCF battled and kept itself within range late.

Yet, UCF was still down seven with 50 seconds left, 76-69. Four free throws, two by David Diakite and two by Marcus Jordan, pulled the Knights within three. But a Marshall free throw made it 77-73 with 29 seconds left. UCF point guard A.J. Rompza tossed up a three from the corner and it was down to a one point game, 77-76 with 15 seconds left. After Marshall drained two free throws, UCF was down 79-76. The Knights possession became a mad scramble as the ball got loose on the right wing some 35-feet from the basket. Isaac Sosa grabbed it, turned and hurled a draining three to force overtime. And that's when the game got interesting.

After rallying from 17 down, UCF would begin overtime playing from behind again. Two three pointers by Sosa tied the game at 85. After each team scored to make 87-87, both UCF and Marshall missed chances to win after the first five extra minutes.

When the second overtime began fouls became a problem for UCF. Four fouled out in regulation and the first two OT's. Yet somehow UCF positioned itself to take a four-point lead on a three-point play by Keith Clanton and UCF led 94-90 with 2:23 to play in the extra session. They held the lead at 101-98 with 11 seconds left when UCF opted to foul Marshall guard Damier Pitts and not allow the Herd to take a game-tying three .

Pitts is an 82 percent free throw shooter. He made the first to make it 101-99 and didn't look like he planned to miss the second. But he did. As the ball rolled off the rim, a smaller UCF team, missing A.J. Tyler, Clanton, P.J. Gaynor and Diakite, could not grab the rebound. As UCF's big men watched from the bench after fouling out, Marshall's Dago Peno tapped and tapped until the ball fell in and guess what? Triple overtime.

By now the game reached almost three hours. The swing of emotions and big shots and play bounced back and forth. But now Kirk Speraw had to figure how to play with no big men left. Jakub Kusmieruk started the third overtime, but he was no match for a quicker Hassan Whiteside. Marshall's center, and a potential lottery pick in the NBA, knocked down a banker from 15-feet and UCF had no choice but to go small. Five guards. No one taller than 6-foot-2 on the floor. Freshman R.J. Scott was asked to defend Whiteside and for one possession battled, bumped and bruised as best he could.

Marshall took advantage of a short- handed UCF team who eventually lost Rompza and Taylor Young to their fifth fouls. The Herd opened the lead to 115-104 with 1:05 left in the third overtime. But the remaining Knights still battled. Scott's three with 34 seconds left made it 117-113. But the Herd finished out the game and claimed the 121-115 win. Six UCF players fouled out. One Marshall player picked up a fifth foul. The Herd shot 67 free throws, including 33 in the three overtimes. UCF shot 32 free throws the entire game. The game had 69 totals fouls with UCF being called for 43.

Rompza played 51 minutes and had 13 assists. He limped off the court after picking up his fifth foul and sat at the end of the bench wearing the wounds of a game few will ever forget. Young had a career high 23 and hit big shot after big shot. Sosa was the reason we stayed for almost three-and-a-half hours with his buzzer-beating shot at the end of regulation.

Speraw sat next to me for his post-game radio show. He looked like the general whose army battled and battled in a war but could not claim victory. He saw a tired team who lost six players for fouls, but a team that kept battling. He saw players step into roles they had never been asked to at any time in the season.

UCF could have won in the second overtime and if they did, it would have been one of the greatest regular season wins in school history.

No one wants to brag about great performance in a loss. I get that. So does the basketball team. But for over three hours in a snowy night in Huntington, W.Va., UCF and Marshall played one of the greatest games in Conference USA history. Over 7,800 were in the crowd and likely many more will claim they were.

It was something to watch. It would have been sweet to get a win. But to say you were there to witness it is still special.

UCF plays its final home game Tuesday against East Carolina. The team's lone senior, Drew Speraw, will take the court for the final time. The team could use some hometown cheers, because despite the loss at Marshall, they played one heck of a game that will be remembered for a long time.

Marc Daniels' From the Press Box runs several times per month on UCFAthletics.com. Listen to Marc during UCF football, men's basketball and baseball radio broadcasts on the UCF-ISP Sports Network. Each weekday, Marc hosts "The Beat of Sports" on ESPN 1080 in Orlando from 9-11 a.m.