Similar events unfolded for the USC men’s basketball team yet again.
With about 11 minutes left in the second half, freshman guard Byron Wesley nailed a jump shot to give the Trojans a late 47-45 lead.
But in what has been so common for USC (6-23, 1-15) this season, the shots stopped falling.
Wesley and company failed to register another field goal for the remainder of the contest, eventually stumbling at Arizona State, 56-52, in front of an announced crowd of 6,316 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.
“It’s our same old story,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “We didn’t make ’em. We couldn’t get shots to go down.”
Shooting just 33 percent from the field in the second half, the Trojans fell for the 23rd time this season, breaking a more than two-decade-long program record for losses in a single season. The previous mark was set in 1989 when they finished the year 10-22 overall.
“That’s nothing anybody wants to be associated with,” O’Neill said. “It’s also a situation nobody has had to go through.”
Despite the team’s ineffectiveness on offense in the final 10 minutes of the game, the Trojans still had a chance in the final seconds.
Trailing 53-52 with just under one minute left to play in regulation, Arizona State guard Chris Colvin completed a 3-point play on a drive to the basket.
The acrobatic layup and subsequent free throw gave the Sun Devils (9-20, 5-12) a four-point lead with 19.4 seconds left — a lead they would never relinquish.
Like USC, they too struggled offensively. Colvin’s basket marked the first time they had scored since the 7:45 mark when guard Trent Lockett put back a missed shot attempt.
“I like how we played defensively,” O’Neill said, referencing the final stretch run. “I also like the fact we only had seven turnovers. We got more shots than they did, which is always a plus in a game.”
In the first half, those shots fell, as the Trojans went 11-of-25 from the field and trailed 34-24 at halftime.
But what likely left the strongest impression for the third-year coach was, again, Wesley’s performance. The freshman guard set a career best for the second consecutive game with 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Wesley finished with 18 points on Thursday in a 70-54 loss at Arizona.
“I love how Byron Wesley is developing as a player,” O’Neill said. “He’s become a primetime player.”
Recent results do appear to cement O’Neill’s assertion.
Over the second half of conference play, Wesley has averaged 14.9 points per game — nearly twice as much as the 8.7 points per game he averaged in the nine Pac-12 games.
“He’s becoming a man,” O’Neill said. “He’s fought through a lot of tough situations. He’s embraced coaching. He’s learned how to play hard. He’s physical. This guy is who we thought he was going to be: a big-time player.”
Wesley was aided offensively by sophomore guard Maurice Jones, who finished with 12 points. The two combined for more than 60 percent of the team’s scoring. But Jones wasn’t nearly as efficient, converting four of 13 shot attempts.
The Trojans, who have dropped 15 of their last 16 games since a 24-point home win over TCU on Dec. 19, will conclude the regular season on Thursday and Saturday, as they host Washington and Washington State, respectively, at the Galen Center.
“We’ve not been successful in winning games to the extent we’d like to be, obviously, but I think our guys have played extremely hard for the situation they’re in,” O’Neill said, referencing the fact that only six scholarship players remain healthy enough to play. “I hope they continue to do that the rest of the way.”
USC was narrowly defeated by Washington State earlier this season, 60-53, and lost to Washington 69-41 in Seattle on Feb. 4.
Barring a home sweep of both schools, O’Neill’s bunch will likely enter the Pac-12 tournament the following week on March 7 as the No. 12 seed.