March 20, 2018 by Sam Dodge
This is probably why Metu isn’t playing. (Getty Images)
An underrated Western Kentucky team made the final surge to top USC 79-75 in the second round of the NIT. Tied at 72, free throws fueled the Hilltoppers’ seven to three run. Dwight Coleby jammed home the final points, mercifully ending this beast of a season.
The NIT, especially for this team, was basketball purgatory. Instead of fading peacefully into the night after the warm, gooey feelings after North Carolina-Asheville, USC fans had to endure one more night of disappointing reminders.
There was Chimezie Metu, who had to sit in the stands due to an “administrative rule,” according to Andy Enfield. Since he voluntarily sat out a game without an injury, Enfield stated, USC required that he sit in the empty Galen bleachers.
Andy Enfield said the administration said Chimezie Metu had to sit in the stands since he was eligible, wasn’t injured and wasn’t playing.
— Shotgun Spratling (@ShotgunSpr) March 20, 2018
Much like purgatory, Metu sat in an empty abyss of red seats, waiting for nearly two hours for Western Kentucky to record their first-ever road win over a Pac-12 team. Despite what seems like irreconcilable differences between him and USC, will he really leave if he’s a mid-second round draft pick, as he is now on Sports Illustrated’s mock draft?
There were the far-too-commonplace scoring droughts. WKU surged to a 40-39 halftime lead behind a three-minute scoring drought and the Hilltoppers’ 60 percent shooting. The aforementioned final run saw two missed Jordan Usher three-pointers, one by McLaughlin and an Usher missed free throw.
Overall,, USC shot a decent 47 percent and 38 percent from deep, notching a solid 1.12 points a possession. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough.
The last two games reminded fans of the defensive woes of December. WKU scorched the nets at a 54 percent clip, finishing with 1.18 points a possession. Combined with the dreadful defense against UNCA, the team’s defensive efficiency ended at No. 87 in the country. While still No. 2 in the conference, the Pac-12’s post-season woes put that progress in a bleak perspective.
Not that this WKU team was bad. They sit at 26 wins after last night. They battled with Villanova and beat Purdue and SMU in November. They now rank ahead of USC on Ken Pomeroy, slotting in at No. 50 — USC is No. 51.
Unexpected roster issues also reared their ugly heads. Elijah Stewart and Nick Rakocevic didn’t start, due to, “arriving late to practice sometime last week,” said Enfield. Between the Boatwright and Thornton injuries and the Melton suspension, the Trojans never seemed to find a consistent lineup all season.
Side note: last week was spring break for USC students. Did Stewart and Rakocevic really have too much going on last week to get to practice late? Someone please explain this.
The final tragic visual was another gutty performance by a pair of seniors in McLaughlin and Stewart. Practice issues notwithstanding, the latter turned in an efficient shooting night. Stewart tallied 20 points on 13 shots. McLaughlin reached another double-double, scraping to 13 points on 13 shots, while dishing out 14 assists.
He ends his career No. 2 in school history for assists, with 633 total. Both he and Stewart gave every inch for this program, even in the NIT, and just like after the UNCA game, deserve the respect of the fanbase.
Congratulations to senior captain @itsmclaughlin11 on a record-setting USC career!
— USC Men’s Basketball (@USC_Hoops) March 20, 2018
There will be time to talk about the future. We know McLaughlin, Stewart and Kurt Karis are done. We most likely now that Metu is done, though some sources inside the program say he’s staying (more on that soon). Bennie Boatwright should return from injury to join Jonah Matthews and Shaqquan Aaron on a hot-shooting offense.
However, USC fans, take this moment to breathe. This long, frustrating season is over, and doesn’t need to hurt you anymore.