Southern California Tops Boston College, 72-55
March 20, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - In Southern California, good looks mean a lot.
Well, Taj Gibson was a perfect 10 for the Trojans, and way out of Boston College's league.
Gibson had 24 points on 10-for-10 shooting from the field, sending the 10th-seeded Trojans to a 72-55 victory over Boston College in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday night.
Adding six rebounds, five assists and three blocks, Gibson epitomized USC's fast-breaking, take-it-to-the-hoop, athletic style.
"Just helping my team any way I can," he said, "and trying not to pick up that fifth foul. I knew the offense was going to come."
Dwight Lewis scored 20 points and shut down star Eagles guard Tyrese Rice, and DeMar DeRozan added 18 points and nine rebounds. USC (22-12), which went 1-6 in February, maintained the momentum from last week's Pac-10 tournament title and advanced to Sunday's second round against the Robert Morris-Michigan State winner in the Midwest Region.
For Gibson, this was the ultimate team effort. That's an attribute that seemed to have been missing at times last season, when O.J. Mayo was getting most of the attention in his only season with the Trojans before leaving for the NBA.
"We understand that it takes us, as a family, to win games," Gibson said.
His perfect shooting was the second-best performance in NCAA tournament history with a minimum 10 attempts, behind Kenny Walker's 11-for-11 for Kentucky 1986. Gibson matched Marvin Barnes of Providence and Christian Laettner of Duke, who were 10-for-10 in 1973 and 1992, respectively.
"That's just the type of player Taj is. He's the heart of this team," said sixth-man Leonard Washington.
Corey Raji led No. 7 seed Boston College (22-12) with 15 points. The Eagles made only one field goal in a dreadful stretch of nearly 13 minutes that ultimately sent them back to Beantown.
"Obviously we didn't execute as well as we needed to," coach Al Skinner said. "We were impatient at times."
All BC's misses made it easier for the Trojans to start their transition game and speed to the other end. Rice went 1-for-6 from 3-point range and finished with nine points, and USC improved to 13-0 this season when holding an opponent under 60.
"It's going to be real tough losing such a good teammate and a great leader," Raji said. "I wish him the best of success in the future."
Buried in a power-packed, sports-crazy market beneath all those trophies accumulated this decade by the Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox, Boston College again arrived at the tournament without much buzz. Now in the tradition-cloaked Atlantic Coast Conference, it's even harder for the Eagles to distinguish themselves. Coming off a 14-17 season, they were picked to finish 11th out of 12 in the ACC last fall.
"Of course I wanted to do more, but overall it was a pretty good year," Rice said. "I can't really complain. I definitely wanted to make more of a run in the tournament, but that's how it is sometimes. That's how it was my sophomore and my freshman year."
USC is long and lean, and the relentless leaping for rebounds, tips, dunks and blocks began to pay dividends down the stretch. Reggie Jackson's 3-pointer put BC up 44-41, but then the Trojans started their push.
Daniel Hackett swatted away a shot and zinged a pass up court to Gibson for a dunk to finish an 11-0 run. Later, after two misses by USC, DeRozan rose above the paint and tipped in the third try for a 56-47 lead.
Gibson tossed in a too-easy turnaround in the lane soon after, giving him the perfect 10.
"Our big men were in foul trouble so they were a little bit cautious about fouling Gibson, but he's a tough player, a great player," Raji said. "Unfortunately we just didn't have the bodies up there to stop him."
Last year, Mayo and the Trojans were a No. 6 seed, but Michael Beasley and Kansas State knocked them out in the first game. This time, there's been more balance and stronger camaraderie led by the junior core of Gibson, Lewis and Hackett, the Italian stallion point guard who played all 120 minutes in the Pac-10 tournament and all 40 minutes in this game.
DeRozan is the new fabulous freshman, and he has made a strong impression on his teammates.
"He asks for guidance sometimes. That's amazing," Gibson said, adding: "He's a team player. That's what we needed this year, and it's been working out for us."
Gibson, the glue, exerted himself throughout this game.
He blocked a shot underneath toward the end of the first half, and Washington followed with a strong inside move and a basket on the other end. After an Eagles miss, Gibson attacked the glass, drew a foul during his layup for a three-point play and landed with a scowl framing his full beard and shaved scalp.
The Trojans completed a 9-0 run on their next possession with a fastbreak basket by DeRozan and went up 27-23. For the first three-quarters of the game, the Eagles responded to every charge by the Trojans. They led 34-30 at the half, which didn't make USC coach Tim Floyd happy. He used the Kansas State loss to get them going.
"I liked the maturity in the locker room after it was over," Floyd said. "They understand that it is a tournament. It's not a one-game series, winner take all."