JEROME WHITEHEAD'S dunk in Atlanta against UNC-Charlotte, March 25, 1977 - MU 51-49.
Without a doubt Jerome Whitehead's last second game winning shot was the most important field goal in the history of Marquette basketball. The Warriors were playing UNCC on Sat afternoon in the NCAA Tournament semi-final game in Atlanta.
After leading for most of the game, the Warriors fell behind 47-44 with 1:41 remaining in the 2nd half. Butch Lee, frustrated by UNCC's long armed defenders had gone 1 for 14 from the field but then on consecutive possessions, hit two long jump shots from the key to give MU the lead. MU's reserve guard Gary Rosenberger made a free throw to give the Warriors a 49-47 lead with 13 seconds left. When Charlotte center Cedric "Cornbread' Maxwell answered with a ten-foot leaning lane jump shot to tie the score with 3 seconds left, Marquette called a time-out. Al McGuire walked out onto the floor to check the height of the overhanging Omni scoreboard. He instructed Butch Lee to throw a long pass in the direction of Bo Ellis at the free throw line 75 feet away. C Jerome Whitehead was to come up from the lower blocks to set a pick for Ellis.
When play resumed, Lee threw the ball down court and both Ellis and Maxwell, who was guarding Whitehead, jumped for it at the key. Somehow, the ball slipped through their grasp and into Whitehead's hands who was all alone behind Maxwell. Whitehead went to the basket for a dunk, but Maxwell tried to block him from behind by sticking his arm over the basket. Whitehead's right arm moved as Maxwell's hand hit the ball over the MU basket. Instead of going down, the ball hit off the box on the glass backboard and banked back into the cylinder area...then the ball went in the basket and the buzzer went off. It looked like the ball could have glanced off Maxwell's hand and Whitehead's hand [both hands were over the rim inside the basket] as it banked off the glass before dropping through the net. The action occurred in front of the MU bench. At the buzzer, Marquette's bench players jumped onto the court. Everyone looking at the referees. Was the shot made before the buzzer sounded? Their hands were in the cylinder. Was there goaltending on Maxwell? On Whitehead? Was there a foul on Maxwell? On Whitehead?
McGuire and Charlotte coach Lee Rose joined in a heated and animated discussion with head referee Paul Gavin as Gavin walked over to the table to confer with the official scorer, Larry Carter, seated at half court. Gavin asked Carter where the ball was when the buzzer sounded. "In the basket," said Carter. Gavin then raised his arm up and said, "Basket good." MU won 51-49. At that moment McGuire raised his fist and hugged Butch Lee and the Marquette section went wild. The last second shot capped the greatest game in Whitehead's career. Against Charlotte he scored 21 points and had 16 rebounds.
I was 17 yrs old when MU won the championship in Atlanta. Three months later, I was working at one of Rick Majerus' Medalist summer camps. Who came in for a visit with the campers? Jerome Whitehead! I asked him, "J, I know you have been asked this a million times since Atlanta, but was it good? Did you touch the ball in the basket?"
His response. "All I know is that they put 2 pts up on the scoreboard so the answer is 'yes, the shot was good.' Nothing more to be said."
It is unfortunate that Whitehead's last second shot is not remembered for what it is...one of the great baskets in NCAA Tournament history. The play reminded many of the USSR's full court pass to Alexander Belov that beat the '72 USA Olympic team in Munich. I think the problem is that the MU vs. UNCC game was broadcast by NBC prior to 1981, when CBS acquired the broadcasting rights for the Tourney. CBS tends to show only the last shots that they covered. Duke over Kentucky. UCONN over Clemson. Valpo over Mississippi. That is a shame. Whitehead's shot should rank right up there with Laettner's basket vs. Kentucky. I have never seen a play like that before or since 1977.