The Anatomy of a Choke Job

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March 18, 2016 by Marshall Kelner

By Marshall Kelner

There will be time to talk about the bright future for USC Basketball and what a positive and enjoyable season this was. Now is not that time. We live in the present and the fact is that the Trojans should be preparing to face the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels right now for a chance to reach the Sweet 16. Why aren’t they? Simply put, they gave away the game last night against Providence in the final two-plus minutes. Let’s take a look at how it happened:

  • After Katin Reinhardt drilled two free throws, USC led 68-63 with 2:41 to play. Things looked good for the Trojans.


  • With 2:23 left, Jordan McLaughlin came up with a steal. What happened next was probably the play that cost USC the most down the stretch. Julian Jacobs was streaking up the floor wide open. McLaughlin saw him and hoisted the ball ahead. Unfortunately, the pass was badly underthrown and Kris Dunn easily picked it off before feeding Ben Bentil underneath for an easy dunk to make it 68-65. Had McLaughlin executed the pass, Jacobs would likely have had an easy dunk himself, which would have put the Trojans up by seven. Instead, it became a three-point game.


  • Following a Providence timeout with 2:12 to go, Jacobs tried to feed Nikola Jovanovic underneath, but once again the pass was stolen, this time by Bentil.


  • The next Providence possession was an emotional gut punch for the Trojans. They played great defense and forced Providence to burn 26 seconds off the clock. With four seconds left to shoot, Dunn threw up a prayer from at least three feet beyond the three-point arc and got it to go. Tie game, 68-68 with 1:27 to go.


  • USC called timeout with 1:15 left and Andy Enfield drew up a terrific play that allowed Bennie Boatwright a clear path to the bucket from the right baseline. The freshman was fouled on a dunk attempt, which he should have completed for a chance at a three-point play. Instead, he missed the first free throw and made the second to put USC back in front. 69-68 with 58 seconds to play. It turned out to be the final time USC scored in the game.


  • With 48 seconds left, Jalen Lindsey of Providence missed a three. McLaughlin grabbed the rebound and raced up the floor. With 40 seconds to go, he missed a contested layup. It wasn’t an ordinary layup, but it was one that should have been converted. Some might say McLaughlin should have held the ball and burned clock, but I didn’t mind the play. Had he held the ball and USC didn’t score, Providence would have had possession with 18 seconds left with a chance for the final shot to win the game. Had he converted a shot he makes at least 80 percent of the time, USC goes up by three. The execution just wasn’t there.


  • With 32 seconds left, Kris Dunn badly missed a fade away jumper from the left baseline. It was a rushed and ill-advised shot by Providence’s best player. Yet again, USC caught a break. Elijah Stewart pulled down the rebound and was fouled with 27 seconds left, sending him to the line for a 1-and-1.


  • Stewart missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and Bentil secured the rebound.


  • Providence used its final timeout with 22 seconds to go.


  • With 15 seconds left, Bentil got loose underneath the bucket. Chimezie Metu went up with him and made an incredible block. Bentil got it back and was blocked again, this time from behind by Stewart. The ball went out of bounds and was awarded to Providence, but after review, the officials gave USC possession. The replay clearly showed the ball went off the fingertips of Bentil. Another break for USC.


  • The Trojans inbounded the ball into the corner to McLaughlin right in front of the Providence bench. He was surrounded by the Friars and they forced a jump ball. Luckily, the Trojans had the possession arrow, so they kept the ball. Another break!


  • Andy Enfield used his final timeout with 14 seconds left. This time, they got the ball in easily to Julian Jacobs, who sprint dribbled it up the near sideline. He was fouled, but not before USC caught a break once again. Jacobs lost the ball off his foot and out of bounds, but the officials ruled that the foul occurred first. USC went back to the free throw line.


  • Jacobs missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and Bentil grabbed another rebound with 12 seconds left.


  • Kris Dunn missed a floater in the lane and the ball went out of bounds to Providence with three seconds left.


  • Inbounding underneath their own basket, the Friars executed a perfect play. USC completely lost track of Rodney Bullock, who got himself wide open underneath the rim. Drew Edwards delivered a great bounce pass underneath the right arm of McLaughlin, and Bullock made the layup to put his team up, 70-69 with one second to go.


  • A three-quarters court heave from Jacobs was no good, and just like that, USC’s season was over.


Yes, all of this actually happened in the final 2:23 of the game. Let’s recap. USC committed two turnovers. USC missed three free throws in the final minute, two coming on the front-end of 1-and-1 attempts. So, in reality, USC went 1-of-6 from the foul line in that span. They also caught a ton of breaks, including having the possession arrow in their favor, the foul being called right as Jacobs lost the ball, Dunn taking a terrible shot, and Bentil missing two attempts right underneath the bucket. The game was there for the taking and USC literally gave it to Providence. Here were their final six offensive possessions:

  • Turnover
  • Turnover
  • Missed dunk. Made 1 of 2 free throws.
  • Missed layup
  • Missed front end of 1-and-1
  • Missed front end of 1-and-1


That will not get it done in the NCAA Tournament. All of this does not even include that fact that USC had a seven-point lead with 7:41 to go (60-53), only to see it evaporate in less than two minutes, as Providence went on an 8-0 run. They went on a 17-9 run to end the game and end USC’s dream season.

Again, the time will come to talk about USC’s bright future and it is very bright indeed. Now, however, is a time for grieving and thinking about what might have been. Nothing is guaranteed in the future. Would USC have beaten North Carolina tomorrow? Probably not, but the sad thing is that now we will never know. The season is over.

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