February 11, 2017 by Jacob Freedman
Elijah Stewart called USC the “Harry Potter of the Pac-12,” but the magic just wasn’t there Saturday night at the Galen Center. After a back-and-forth showdown, a slew of turnovers and defensive lapses down the stretch doomed USC (21-5, 8-5 in Pac-12) in a 81-70 loss to No. 5 Oregon (22-4, 11-2).
While Chimezie Metu paced his squad with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, the rest of the Trojans shot just 31 percent against a Ducks team that matched USC’s elite athleticism. The Trojans also finished with 16 turnovers, one more than their 15 in a 84-61 loss in Eugene back in December, with the starting point guard duo of Jordan McLaughlin and De’Anthony Melton accounting for nine of the 16. “I thought our guards were a little off in terms of their decision-making and shooting,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “To beat a Top 5 team in the country, you have to play a little better than we did tonight.”
Live By The Three, Die By The…
After USC missed its third dunk of the game early in the second half, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks responded with a three to push Oregon’s lead to five. Then it was USC’s turn. Elijah Stewart slammed home a toss from McLaughlin soon after, then followed it up with a three the next trip down. After forcing a turnover, Jordan McLaughlin hit a corner three the next trip down to make it 42-40, giving USC its first lead since 8:26 into the game.
It went south from there.
The Ducks then hit a trio of triples, two from Tyler Dorsey, to spark a 9-2 run that pushed them back ahead, 57-52. USC’s poor shot selection following that mini-run allowed the Ducks to capitalize, eventually stretching their lead to 10. USC clawed back to within two, but Dorsey struck again, hitting another pair to push a one-possession game into an eight-point deficit for the Trojans in the final two minutes. The second was the de-facto dagger for the Trojans, as De’Anthony Melton missed closing out on Dorsey’s attempt with the shot clock expiring. “He basically gave him an uncontested three,” Enfield said on Melton’s late mistake. “De’Anthony lost track of time.”
USC had a last gasp late, with the ball down eight with 47 ticks left, but a pair of bricks beyond the arc from Boatwright and Melton effectively iced any Trojan hope of a late miracle. The Trojans finished 6-of-27 from long distance (22 percent), while the Ducks’ 10-of-23 night (43.5 percent) from downtown enabled them to stymy any USC run.
“We were just off on our shooting tonight,” Enfield said. “We missed so many open shots… I thought we battled all game long, and Oregon made the key plays on both ends of the floor in the last three minutes.”
In his first time playing Oregon this season, Bennie Boatwright had an evening to forget. The 6-foot-10 sophomore missed his first five three-point shots before hitting his one and only triple with 4:39 to go, and shot 1-of-9 from distance and 3-of-15 overall to finish with 15 points.
A couple of Boatwright’s misses were crucial, notably a Steph Curry-like pull-up from far beyond the three-point line in the final minute that clanked off the iron. “He took a couple of bad threes late,” Enfield said. “He feels worse than anyone in this arena.”
Cold As Ice
The Trojans went toe-to-toe with the Ducks for the entire game, but couldn’t get over a cold shooting night. Two nights after shooting over 50 percent against Oregon State, the Trojans shot under 39 percent for the fourth time in Pac-12 play. The result in all four of those nights? Loss.
“We missed a lot of easy dunks. A lot of open three-pointers,” said Elijah Stewart, who finished with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting. “With ay type of shooting team, when you start missing your nerves take over.”
Enfield’s Big Risk
After Chimezie Metu picked up two fouls within the first five minutes, Enfield subbed out the sophomore. But after two quick fouls by replacement Nick Rakocevic, Oregon’s athletic tandem of Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell left Enfield with no choice but to re-insert Metu to stop the bleeding down low.
The gambit worked. Metu came in for two more two-minute spurts, the second seeing a thunderous slam and three-point play to help USC cut an 11-point deficit to two going into halftime. USC couldn’t get it done down the stretch, but Metu was a big reason the Trojans hung around as long as they did.
The Trojans head to Pauley Pavilion next week for a Saturday night showdown against rival UCLA. USC defeated the Bruins 84-76 at the Galen Center on Jan. 25.