As inevitable as watching Jerome Lane elevate for the tomahawk dunk that ripped off the rim and shattered the backboard at Fitzgerald Field House is the call that perfectly captured the monumental moment.
Twenty five years later, college basketball analyst Bill Raftery remains amazed at how his emphatic “Send it in, Jerome!” shout following the thunderous dunk is forever linked with the most famous play in Pitt basketball history and one that ranks among ESPN's greatest highlights.
“It was an innocent fast break that Sean Miller screwed up by making the right decision,” Raftery said. “It was one of those goofy things that happens in a game, and I was fortunate enough to be there. There was so many great things announcing games, but this thing has had more legs than anything I've ever seen. It's extraordinary.”
Lane's backboard-breaking dunk against Providence Jan. 25, 1988, remains the most prominent play in a season that put the Panthers on the college basketball map. They finished 24-7, rising as high as No. 2 in the national rankings and won the Big East Conference regular-season championship before their magical season was spoiled by Barry Goheen's buzzer-beating heave as Vanderbilt pulled a second-round upset in the NCAA Tournament.
Twenty-five years later, the dunk endures.
Lane is believed to be the first player to shatter a backboard following the introduction of the breakaway rim. That he did so in such a powerful display before a live national television audience – it was ESPN's Big Monday game – only made it more memorable.
Following a steal, Miller, the freshman point guard, led the three-on-two fastbreak with shooting guard Jason Matthews to his left and Lane on his right. Miller drew a defender near the top of the key and dished to the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Lane.
A power forward who led the nation at 13.5 rebounds a game the previous season, Lane took one step, elevated and cocked his right arm back. He slammed the ball, ripping the rim from the glass.
“I didn't realize anything until I looked at Demetreus (Gore),” Lane told ESPN.com in 2011. “His mouth was open. Then I saw glass on the floor. It came down like snow.”
At first, there was a sense of shock. Everyone was in disbelief, wondering if their eyes were deceiving them.
“Everyone paused for, like, five seconds because no one understood what had just happened,” Matthews said. “I was trying to get away from the glass coming down because I was under the basket. It was all over the floor. He hit it at the right place, right time and with the right force.”
Darelle Porter, then a freshman guard, was walking to the scorer's table to check into the game when assistant coach John Calipari shouted to him. Porter turned around, hearing the commotion but not witnessing it.
“I saw the rim torn away from the glass backboard,” Porter said. “I told ‘Rome' as we were walking to the locker room that somebody probably shot the backboard with a BB gun at the same time he dunked it.”
It was still early in the first half when the game was stopped. To the delight of the cameras and the crowd, Roc, the Panther mascot, ran around the gym with the wrecked rim. As the glass was swept from the floor, a replacement basket was brought out from below the bleachers.
Raftery recalls Big East play-by-play man Mike Gorman interviewing Don Nelson, scouting for the Golden State Warriors, during the 32-minute delay while the Little Panthers dribblers performed.
Miller, now the head coach at the University of Arizona, treats The Dunk as a claim to fame and a validation of his college career to his players – even if he does take some liberties with it.
“In my house,” Miller said during his WPIAL Hall of Fame induction last year, “it's known as The Pass.”
Matthews laughs at that.
“I don't even know if Sean's sons are buying into that,” Matthews said of Miller's wife and kids. “Everyone else knows it as The Dunk.”
Porter is impressed that the dunk – and Raftery's call – resonates 25 years later, thanks to ESPN highlights and YouTube.
“People remember you by your memorable plays,” Porter said. “He's remembered by that play and Bill Raftery saying, ‘Send it in, Jerome!' There weren't that many channels, so the Big East had the best package. We were on TV every week, so people knew your whole roster, knew your team. Everywhere you go, they remembered the dunk.”
What Raftery remembers is the originality of The Dunk, marking the first time he and almost everyone else at Fitzgerald Field House had witnessed someone shatter a backboard in person.
“It was something either you couldn't do or haven't seen it before first-hand,” Raftery said. “Later, I saw Shaq take the glass and backboard down at the Meadowlands. It wasn't as impressive. I was like, ‘I've seen this before. Big deal.'”
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