The most talked-about nose in Los Angeles, other than Michael Jackson's, is a bit congested today. Otherwise, it seems perfectly ordinary, as does its owner, USC guard Harold Miner. As he discusses his analytical approach to basketball and describes his vast hoops video library, which includes footage of everyone from Bob Cousy to Michael Jordan, Miner is friendly but serious, seemingly the furthest thing from a flake. You begin to think all those stories about him must be overblown, exaggerated through repeated tellings.
But then the subject of his nose comes up. Suddenly Miner laughs, leans forward and brings his face closer to the table in front of him. "It's true," he says. "I do like to"—here he brushes the tip of his nose back and forth against the table's cool, smooth surface—"touch things with it."
This is quite odd, of course, but odder still is that Miner makes it seem almost natural to place one's nose against inanimate objects for no apparent reason. In fact, watching the languid way he does it makes you want to touch something with your own nose just to make sure you haven't been missing out on some wonderful sensation. Miner's teammates have grown used to his wandering nose. No one bats an eye any longer when he rubs it against a chair or against a coach's shoulder during a timeout, or when he enters a room and brushes the door with his nose without saying a word.
"Harold is not normal," says the Trojans' other starting guard, Duane Cooper. "I tell him that all the time. You think the nose thing is weird? The nose thing is not weird. Not by Harold's standards. He has a whole bunch of strange habits. Sometimes, when we're just walking along in the mall or down the street, Harold will suddenly stop and put on a spin move, just pivot all the way around like he was trying to spin away from a guy on the court."
What's the proper reaction to that? "Just say, 'Was that a good one, Harold?' " says USC assistant sports information director Gary Pine. "And Harold says, 'Yeah, that was a good one.' "
Miner's friends and teammates tell these stories with pure affection, partly because Miner accepts teasing about his idiosyncrasies so good-naturedly and partly because Miner, a 6'5" junior from Inglewood, Calif., and a preseason All-America, is the Trojans' meal ticket. He proved it once again last Saturday, leading unranked USC to a dramatic 79-77 overtime upset of No. 4 Ohio State at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Miner scored 31 points against the talented Buckeyes, many of them with his trademark fall-away, lefthanded jumper. But his two most important points were the final ones of the game, coming on an improbable alley-oop pass from Cooper with 11 seconds left in OT and just one second remaining on the 45-second clock.
The shot gave Miner the last word in what had been a remarkable duel down the stretch with Jimmy Jackson, Ohio State's marvelous swingman. Jackson, a 6'6" junior, missed seven of his first eight shots but made seven of his final eight, many of them with Trojan defenders hanging from his shirt. He held the Buckeyes, who fell to 6-1, together late in the game and finished with a dandy line—28 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He even guarded Miner, who converted only eight of 19 field goal attempts, during much of their encounter. It was enough to solidify Jackson's stature as perhaps the finest clutch performer in the country but not enough to silence Miner and USC, which was 7-1 after earning its first victory against a Top 4 opponent since it beat No. 1 UCLA in 1970.
" Jimmy Jackson is a great, great player," said Southern Cal coach George Raveling. "The way he put them on his back and carried them down the stretch at crunch time was amazing. We saw two outstanding players, and they both had saddles on their backs."
USC's zone defense forced Ohio State to execute its offense from the perimeter, and until Jackson heated up, the Buckeyes weren't up to the task. For the game, they shot 40% from the floor. Raveling played the zone almost as vigorously as did his players. He ran along the sideline waving his arms in the air, which served the dual purpose of getting the Trojans on the floor to keep their arms up and working the normally catatonic Sports Arena crowd into a frenzy.
Still, Ohio State took a 77-75 lead on a Jackson jumper with 1:53 left in overtime. Miner tied it with two free throws and then intercepted a pass by Buckeye forward Chris Jent, which gave the Trojans their final possession with :55 on the clock. Ohio State smothered USC and knocked the ball out of bounds with that one second remaining on the shot clock. The Trojans didn't have a timeout, but they didn't need one. "Coop didn't say anything to me," Miner said later. "We just looked at each other, and we knew what to do. I gave a fake, looked for the lob, and it was there."