UNIONDALE, New York (Ticker) -- Troy Bell scored a career-high 32 points, but it was not enough to get Boston College into the "Sweet 16" of the NCAA Tournament.
Southern California, the fourth-place team in the Pac-10, denied the Big East Conference co-Player of the Year an opportunity to attempt a 3-pointer in the final seconds and held off the third-seeded Eagles, 74-71, in a second-round East Region game at the Nassau Coliseum.
David Bluthenthal scored 20 points and Jeff Trepagnier added 18 for USC (23-9), which overcame 27 turnovers and advanced to the "Sweet 16" for the first time since 1961.
The Trojans had not beaten a ranked team all season and went 0-6 against Stanford, Arizona and UCLA, the top three teams in the Pac-10. But they destroyed Oklahoma State in the first round on Thursday and knocked the Big East champions out of the tournament.
"I'm basically speechless, I guess you could say," said USC coach Henry Bibby, a player on three UCLA championship teams in the early 1970s. "I've played in the NBA Finals (with Philadelphia) and won three national championships, but to coach a team that keeps persevering has always been a dream of mine. I'm proud of these kids." USC will meet Kentucky in the regional semifinals on Thursday in Philadelphia.
Bell scored 21 of his points in the second half, rallying the Eagles from a nine-point deficit. The sophomore guard blew past Trepagnier and hit an electrifying shake-and-bake, double clutch layup with 2:43 left to give Boston College a 64-63 lead.
But Sam Clancy, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, hit a 12-foot fadeway bank shot to give the lead back to USC for good with 2:09 remaining.
After Boston College's Ryan Sidney missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key, USC's Kenny Hutchinson was fouled. A 58-percent free-throw shooter, Hutchinson assumed the point guard duties when starter Brandon Granville fouled out and converted 5-of-6 from the line in the final 1:17 for the Trojans.
"Coach said to me 'when you first go there (to the free throw line) take your practice shot and just relax," Hutchinson said.
A pair of free throws by Bluthenthal opened a 73-68 lead with 16 seconds left. But Bell connected on a 3-pointer from the right side with 9.7 seconds remaining to pull Boston College within two. Hutchinson was fouled with 7.5 seconds to play and hit 1-of-2, leaving the Eagles with a chance to tie with a 3-pointer.
But Bibby had Hutchinson and Brian Scalabrine pressure Bell in the backcourt and he flung a pass to Kenny Harley.
"We knew Bell was going to shoot a 3 and he can shoot it from the parking lot," Bibby said. "We tried to make him pass and he did." Instead of pulling up for a potential game-tying 3-pointer, Harley opted to drive and missed a runner in the lane. As the seconds ticked away, Bell flew in for the rebound and missed a follow dunk.
"Coming down on that last play, my initial thought was to go to the basket," Harley said. "I was just hoping for the clock to stop and to get fouled." Starting forward Xavier Singletary, positioned behind the arc on the left side, raised his hands in disgust at his team's mental lapse as the USC players celebrated the victory.
Boston College coach Al Skinner defended Harley afterwards.
"There is too much emphasis on one play. The game is 40 minutes long," Skinner said. "I'd rather take a good shot than a bad shot and Kenny thought he had time for two. There was still time left on the clock. USC won this game. We didn't lose it." However, Bell shouldered the burden for Harley's mistake.
"I thought I played pretty well aside from that last play," Bell said. "I should have taken the ball all the way and shot the 3. I take responsibility for that." It was a bitter end to a successful season for Boston College, which transformed from a last-place team to Big East champion with virtually the same team as last year.
Bell's 32 points equaled an NCAA Tournament high set by Kyle Hill of Eastern Illinois in a first-round loss to Arizona.
"Bell is one of the best players I've seen in college basketball," Bibby said.
However, Bell received little help. Uka Agbai had 12 points, but Singletary and Harley, Boston College's second and third leading scorers this season, combined to hit 4-of-22 shots from the field.
Meanwhile, USC shot a blistering 60 percent from the field and outrebounded the Eagles, 41-28. Bluthenthal, Trepagnier and Clancy combined to hit 17-of-25 shots from the field.
If not for the turnovers forced by Boston College's press, the Trojans would have won the game handily.
They were in complete control, nursing a 56-45 lead after a pair of free throws by Granville with 8:09 left.
But Granville, USC's all-time leader in assists and a three-year starter at point guard, fouled out with 7:06 left.
"I was a little worried because he runs our team," Clancy admitted. "But Hutchinson came in and basically won the game for us with the free throws." After Bell connected on a 3-pointer, he converted the free throws on Granville's fifth foul. Following a turnover by Trepagnier, Bell added two more free throws and Harley capped an 11-1 run with a jumper, pulling the Eagles within 57-56 with 5:36 left.