It’s definitely the loudest I’ve ever heard the Dunk. January 5th, 2004. Texas. at Providence. It was one of those special nights in the old Providence Civic Center, where the energy in the building was something you could really feel.
I remember the hazy in the building, coming from the restaurant up top, creating a smokey atmosphere that that only added to the electricity. I remember Rick Pitino was there, visiting his son who was a student assistant for us. Rick Barnes was back in town. The place was packed. Everything just felt like it was going to be a special night.
I remember getting off to a terrible start. It was like the level of the game hit us in the face. Texas jumped on us, and at first we weren’t sure how to respond. We had won like 5 in a row and just got back from a convincing win at Virginia.
We were down by 21 points. But one thing I’ll never forget, even though we were down 21, the crowd was still nuts. It was like they wouldn’t accept it. No way. Maybe it was anger, alcohol, desperation, but the energy of the crowd was crazy even when we were down big, and that made a difference. They weren’t going to let it happen, they weren’t going to let us give in. It’s one of the things that makes Providence College basketball special.
We started to press. We threw Gerald Brown in there (RIP G. Brown) and put him at the front of the press, and he ran around creating chaos. We turned the game upside down a little bit. The energy kept building. Tuukka Kotti made a couple of plays, and we started to get fouled. Dwight Brewington made a few things happen. I remember we got fouled a lot (Tim Higgins!). We were scoring with the clock stopped, and that made it feel like we had all of the time in the world. We chipped away.
But the biggest thing that happened was Ryan Gomes started to go off. He just got fed up, had a different look in his eye. He started making plays and our confidence started to grow. There was still a ton of time left. The buzz in the crowd made that clear.
I remember Tim turning to me on the bench and saying “Guys are getting tired…” and I said “Don’t sub. We just figured out how hard we have to compete to win this game. Ride it out” The energy had just changed, and Gomes had a different bounce in his step. I remember watching the film after the game, when Gomes teed up a 3 in front of our bench in the second half, and Bill Raftery yelling “HE CAN MAKE THESE…” before he knocked it down. Classic Raft.
Somehow we got it to 8 at halftime. It was one of those down-8-at-halftime deals where it actually felt like we were winning. We had found the right compete level, and they made a mistake – they never put us away. We were saying it at halftime. They could have buried us, and the didn’t.
Donnie from the corner. 3.7 seconds left, tie game. Time out. I’ll never forget the last thing we said to the team in the huddle. “Don’t foul! Make sure we don’t foul!” I carried that with me when I became a head coach, because of what happened next. PJ Tucker gets the ball, goes behind is back, we kind of back away. Drives it to the foul line, Marcus steps up and… keeps his arms down. We didn’t foul. I’ll never forget it, because I always tell my teams “We need a stop!” in those situations. Of course you don’t want to foul. But in a tie game, or any one possession game, you need a stop. You don’t want to play “don’t foul” defense. Our players did what they were told. Lesson learned the hard way.
I honestly don’t remember whether or not I thought the basket counted when I saw it live. It was so close. Obviously about 13,000 of us were waving it off, ready for an extra five minutes. I remember Tim Higgins on one knee at the table. It seemed like it took a half hour, but it was probably only 5 minutes. It was obvious it was hard to tell. Coaches were trying to get a look, and I remember Bobby Donato telling us all to back up so they could figure it out. He said to me “It’s really close.” He was right about that.
Basket good (Tim Higgins!). Completely deflated. It just felt like that game, that night, should go on for another 5 minutes. But the truth is, based on the rule at the time (it was the light, not the clock) they got it right. The rule would change, but that didn’t help us at the time.
One of the great nights in that building, and a night I’ll never forget as a coach. The loudest I have ever heard it. All of the energy, the passion, the intensity of that night – that’s what really what makes Providence College basketball something special.