After storming back from a 13-point deficit in the final nine minutes, the USC men’s basketball team found themselves trailing 69-66 with the ball and only eight seconds remaining.
Senior forward Eric Wise threw an outlet pass to sophomore guard Byron Wesley, but Wesley fumbled shortly after gaining possession. The final buzzer sounded before either team could regain possession, sealing the win for the Utes and ending the Trojans’ season.
“I thought we were getting ready to have a really good look,” USC interim head coach Bob Cantu said. “It worked out how we wanted it to defensively, but we weren’t able to get a shot attempt.”
USC’s final opportunity to tie the game came after Cantu elected not to foul Utah with just a five-second differential between the shot clock and game clock. Utah’s Jarred DuBois missed a jumper with nine seconds left to give the ball back to the Trojans, but USC was unable to take advantage.
The Trojans finish with a 14-18 record on the year, a record skewed by arguably the nation’s toughest schedule but one still indicative of progress made from last year. The Trojans improved their win total by eight from their 6-26 campaign in 2011-12 and won nine Pac-12 games after winning just one last year.
“We weren’t able to get stops at key points in the game,” Cantu said. “We made great runs and cut [the lead] down, and then they would hit a good shot or DuBois would get to the rim and score a layup.”
In the absence of junior forward Dewayne Dedmon, who led the Trojans in rebounds and blocks this season, junior center Omar Oraby received the start and played his finest game of the season and perhaps his career. Oraby led USC with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and had two critical 3-point plays down the stretch to fuel the Trojans’ comeback effort. Oraby played a career-high 35 minutes, far surpassing his previous high of 26, and committed just one foul up until the final minute, when USC fouled the Utes while playing catch-up.
Still, the absence of Dedmon and senior center James Blasczyk, were suspended indefinitely following a report of USC basketball players’ involvement in a fight in downtown Spokane, Wash. last Sunday morning, was evident, even if the USC players wouldn’t say so.
“We prepared without them, so we were prepared to win without them,” senior point guard Jio Fontan said. “We just didn’t put it through. Utah did a good job.”
Junior guard J.T. Terrell had 14 points and six rebounds for the Trojans, while Wise had 12 points and nine rebounds in a game that resulted in a postgame locker-room scene full of tears and disbelief.
“I’m disappointed in myself,” Wise said. “People look at you to make shots. When you don’t do that, you have to live with that.”
It looked like the Trojans’ season was coming to an ugly end when Utah’s Jordan Loveridge hit a 3-pointer to put the Utes up 60-47 with 8:33 to go. After 30 minutes of sloppiness and a lack in communication, the Trojans looked finished. They weren’t.
Wise scored seven points to ignite a 12-0 run that cut the deficit to 60-59 with 3:46 to go. A pair of clutch jumpers by DuBois helped put Utah back up by six with 1:57 to go, but a layup by Wesley and an incredible 30-footer by Terrell made it 69-66 with 41 seconds left. The Trojans’ defense held steady on the final Utes possession but simply could not control the ball when it mattered most, fumbling away their final chance to complete the comeback.