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COLLEGE BASKETBALL NCAA MEN’S TOURNAMENT : Trojans Stung at the Buzzer : Midwest Regional: Georgia Tech’s Forrest makes three-point shot as time expires to eliminate USC, 79-78.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It took a miracle shot to end USC’s miracle season.

The Trojans began celebrating after guard Rodney Chatman made a six-foot jumper from the right baseline with 3.4 seconds remaining to give USC a 78-76 lead over Georgia Tech in an NCAA Midwest Regional second-round game Saturday.

“I think we did too much celebrating,” Chatman said.

He was right. Georgia Tech freshman forward James Forrest, who had not made a three-point shot this season, took an inbounds pass from center Matt Geiger and threw in a 24-foot jumper from beyond the NBA three-point line as time expired to lift the Yellow Jackets to a 79-78 victory over the eighth-ranked Trojans before 18,392 at the Bradley Center.

“It was an unbelievable shot,” Forrest said. “I just caught it and turned around and just threw it, hoping it would go in. Then I looked and I saw it and it was like . . . it took me a couple of seconds before I realized what had just happened.

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“I made one three-pointer all year, but it’s the one that counted and it’s the one that’s going to send us to the Sweet 16.”

Georgia Tech (23-11) advanced to next weekend’s Midwest Regional in Kansas City, where the Yellow Jackets will play Memphis State (22-10), which defeated ninth-ranked Arkansas, 82-80.

The Trojans (24-6) stood in disbelief after Forrest’s shot. Forward Mark Boyd slumped to the court and guard Harold Miner cried.

“It just doesn’t seem like it’s over,” Miner said. “But it is and we have to face reality. That’s a tough way to go out.”

USC Coach George Raveling was stunned.

“I don’t mean this to demean James Forrest, but he was probably the last guy in the world that you thought would make that shot, but he made it and that’s all that counts,” Raveling said. “So they’re moving on to Kansas City and we’re moving on to Los Angeles. To be honest with you, I really liked our chances. I thought we could get to the Final Four.”

After Chatman’s shot gave the Trojans a two-point lead, Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins called a timeout with 2.2 seconds remaining. Geiger, inbounding the ball under USC’s basket, threw a pass to guard Jon Barry at midcourt, but the ball went out of bounds off the leg of Chatman with eight-tenths of a second remaining.

From midcourt, Geiger inbounded to Forrest and he launched a shot over Miner, who backed away.

“I kind of thought there was a five-second count (on Geiger’s inbounds pass) and I didn’t want to foul the guy,” Miner said. “But they got the ball in and he made a miraculous shot. You have to commend him for making that shot.”

Raveling agreed with Miner, claiming that the official nearest to Geiger never gave a five-second count when Geiger was inbounding the ball.

“I’m almost positive that the film will reveal that the official nearest the ball never gave a five-second count,” Raveling said. “The mechanics (of a five-second count) are supposed to be thousand-one, thousand-two, thousand-three . . . I’ve got some big-time money that says that he didn’t make the mechanics on that play.

“I’m not using that as an excuse. They beat us. I’m just saying that there should have been better mechanics on that play than there were. I don’t care about the fine and suspension.”

Videotape replays clearly showed the official making a five-second count with his left arm. The count had reached three when Geiger inbounded the ball.

While Georgia Tech didn’t appear to get a break on the game-winning play, USC may have gotten one before Chatman’s shot, because the timekeeper incorrectly turned off the 45-second clock after Barry made a jumper from the free-throw line to tie the score, 76-76, with 53.5 seconds to play.

If the 45-second clock had not been turned off, the Trojans might have been called for a 45-second violation, because Chatman’s go-ahead jumper came 50.1 seconds after Barry’s shot, or 5.1 seconds after the 45-second clock should have expired.

The Trojans did not call a timeout to set up a play after Barry’s shot because Raveling didn’t want to give Georgia Tech a chance to regroup. The Trojans tried to get it to Miner, who had 18 points on five-of-17 shooting, but he was covered. Chatman took the shot, elbowing Forrest to the court and lofting it over the outstretched arms of the 7-foot-1 Geiger.

The Trojans started slowly. With USC trailing by 10 points after Miner missed his first five shots, reserve guard Dwayne Hackett made four three-point shots to give the Trojans a 37-35 lead with 1:46 to play in the first half. After Barry passed to teammate Malcolm Mackey for a layin with 1:22 remaining, Miner made an 18-footer from the left side to give USC a 39-38 halftime lead.

The Trojans opened the second half with a 23-13 run to take an 11-point lead, but Georgia Tech came back to outscore USC, 23-7, opening a 74-69 lead with 3:01 remaining.

USC, which had a 9-0 record in games decided by five points or fewer, mounted one more comeback, scoring seven consecutive points.

Chatman began the run by sinking a free throw with 2:50 remaining. He missed his second free throw, but the Trojans retained possession after the Yellow Jackets were called for a lane violation. Boyd cut deficit to 74-72 with 2:36 remaining when he made a follow shot after Chatman missed from the right corner.

Geiger drew an offensive foul, and Miner’s layin with 1:44 remaining tied the score, 74-74. Cooper made a steal to set up Orr for a layin that gave the Trojans a 76-74 lead with 1:17 to play.

After Barry tied the score, the Trojans worked the ball to Chatman, who had given the Trojans a season-ending one-point victory over Arizona last weekend when he made a shot as time expired, and he came through again.

But Forrest’s shot ended the season for USC.

“We fought so hard for so long it’s just hard to take it,” USC guard Duane Cooper said. “We all wanted to go to Kansas City so bad and to lose on a last-second shot like that.

“We had a good season, though, and we’ve got to hold our heads up and go on because life is not fair.”

Trojan Notes

USC Coach George Raveling denied a report broadcast by ESPN’s Dick Vitale that he has signed a new five-year contract with USC. “Dick Vitale is crazy,” Raveling said. “There isn’t any contract to sign.” . . . Harold Miner said he hasn’t decided whether to leave school early for the NBA draft.


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