Up against a team with more horses
MINNEAPOLIS - At the end, the only question was, "How in the name of Silvio Conte did USC lose 12 games?
A trick-or-treat Boston College season came to a close in the cavernous Metrodome last night as the Trojans of Southern California thrashed Boston College, 72-55, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Indomitable USC forward Taj Gibson made 10 of 10 shots from the floor, and 4 of 5 from the line, a pocket version of Bill Walton's near perfect championship final (21 of 22) against Memphis State in 1973.
Boston College led by 7 in the first half, but by game's end you couldn't find a Triple Eagle or a patron at Mary Ann's who'd argue BC was the better team. It was a beatdown of the highest order and it made you wonder if USC - winner of six straight, including the Pac-10 tournament - might be a Final Four mystery guest. The Trojans are dysfunctional, but they are loaded.
"Taj anchored it underneath," said USC coach Tim Floyd. "He was terrific offensively in terms of his efficiency. We had a lot of respect for Boston College going in. I think we learned from our [first-round] loss to Kansas State last year."
"My teammates were able to create for me," said Gibson. "We played well tonight."
Boston College? No disgrace losing this one. Picked to finished 11th in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Eagles finished tied for fifth and won 22 games, including victories over Top 25 teams North Carolina, Duke, and Florida State.
But you never knew what you were going to get from Al Skinner's lads. This was epically demonstrated in early January when the Eagles beat the No. 1 team in the country in Chapel Hill, then came home and lost to mighty Harvard three days later.
BC's senior captain, Tyrese Rice, finished his illustrious career with 9 points, only 2 in the second half.
"Overall, it was a pretty good year," said Rice. "I can't really complain. We definitely wanted to make more of a run in the tournament, but that's the way it is."
There is not a tremendous amount of linkage involving Boston College and the University of Southern California. Both schools claim Hollywood heavyweights and Heisman winners. BC can boast of Ed McMahon and Doug Flutie, while USC counters with Will Ferrell and O.J. Simpson.
In 2001, the Eagles and Trojans met in a second-round NCAA game in which BC appeared to lose track of the score in the closing seconds and wound up losing, 74-71.
Neither school had anything resembling home-court advantage last night, unless you count the fact that BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo watched the game alongside R.T. Rybak, a BC grad ('78) who happens to be mayor of Minneapolis.
There weren't many fans from either coast in the Metrodome. The BC band and cheerleaders made the trip and went pom-to-pom with their USC counterparts. This is no small challenge given that: 1. The Trojan band has performed at the Grammy Awards and can be heard on the best of Fleetwood Mac (remember "Tusk"?); 2. The USC cheerleaders appeared to have arrived directly from the set of "Deal or No Deal."
The effects of the dome were obvious immediately. Depth is a problem when you're not used to Grand Canyon dimensions (Larry Bird did not like the Pontiac Silverdome) and shooters from both schools missed wide-open jumpers. BC wound up shooting 33 percent (18 for 55).
Gibson powered an early 8-0 run and USC sprinted to a 16-9 lead while the Eagles were sharpening their focus. Once Corey Raji (game-high 15 for BC) found his range, BC shot into the lead, and a trey by Hooksett, N.H.'s, Tyler Roche gave the Eagles a 23-18 margin early. The Southern Californians seemed truly shocked.
But it was hard to tell what the USC young men were feeling. The Trojans demonstrate little camaraderie on or off the court. Must be a California-cool thing. These guys looked about as connected as the 1978 (25 players, 25 cabs) Red Sox. The Trojans missed a dunk and two layups in the final minutes of the first half and BC led by 4 at intermission.
At halftime, Floyd reminded his guys of last year's early checkout against Kansas State. USC players responded. The Trojans shot 58 percent and committed only four turnovers in the second half, outscoring BC, 42-21.
"We did not execute as well as we needed to in the second half," said Skinner. "We got a little anxious and were not able to keep ourselves in the game. Missing all the shots we did allowed them to score in transition."
BC goes home. USC lives to play again tomorrow, and maybe beyond.
Asked to explain his team's underachievement in the regular season (the Trojans lost to President Obama's brother-in-law at Oregon State) Floyd said, "It was who we were playing and where we were playing. We've been trying to tell people that 80 percent of the teams in our league are capable of playing in this tournament."
USC looked like anything but a 10 seed last night. It could not have been a worse draw for Boston College.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.