The Trojans clawed back from a 15-point deficit to take a second-half lead, but could not finish off the comeback in a 76-66 loss to No. 9 Oregon at the Galen Center on Saturday afternoon to wrap up regular season play.
USC (20-11, 9-9) finishes the campaign with a .500 record in conference play while Oregon (25-6, 14-4) clinches first place in the Pac-12.
Doomed by offensive rebounds and poor free throw shooting (64 percent), the Trojans hung tough but could not pull out a win against a top-10 opponent. USC has now dropped 12 straight games to Oregon and ends the season 16-2 at the Galen Center.
“We had a chance to win the game, but we didn’t make any shots,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “We missed floaters, layups, wide open 3s, free throws.”
The Trojans sputtered on offense in the second half, shooting just 36 percent and missing all eight of their 3-point attempts.
“Against a good team like Oregon, our defense was good enough to win this game,” Enfield said. “But you have to play on both ends. Our four best shooters [freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, sophomore guards Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart and junior guard Katin Reinhardt] shot 4-of-19 from the 3-point line and we missed a bunch of free throws.”
Much like the start of the game, the Trojans began the second half on a roll to erase what was a big Oregon advantage. An 8-2 run that included a thunderous dunk by junior guard Julian Jacobs and a tough finish inside by McLaughlin put USC ahead 47-46 early in the half.
But after the two teams exchanged leads over the next few minutes, the Ducks went on a run to take a lead they would not relinquish. Sophomore guard Casey Benson hit a 3-pointer to put Oregon ahead 63-56 and another make from distance by senior forward Dwayne Benjamin put the game away, giving the Ducks a double-digit advantage with under two minutes to play.
The Trojans picked the wrong time for a scoring drought of almost three minutes, as they shot just 1-of-8 from the field at one juncture down the stretch.
“If you’re not making shots offensively, you need to defend in order to stay in the game,” junior forward Nikola Jovanovic said. “That’s what we did for most of the game. We had stretches where we weren’t able to score. It’s just basketball, it happens.”
Jovanovic and Reinhardt both finished with 12 points to lead the Trojans, while McLaughlin had 10. Freshman guard Tyler Dorsey led the Ducks with a game-high 19 points.
The Trojans started off hot as senior Strahinj Gavrilovic, who got the start on Senior Day, scored the first four points before checking out for Boatwright. USC took a 9-2 lead to open the game and freshman forward Chimezie Metu brought some energy with a couple of dunks.
But the momentum was short-lived, as the Ducks heated up behind senior forward Elgin Cook, who had 13 points in the first half. An 11-0 run put Oregon ahead 20-15 as the Ducks shot 59 percent from the field in the half. They extended their lead to 11 with under seven minutes to play.
Meanwhile, the Trojans struggled on defense and went on several scoring droughts of three-plus minutes. Their largest deficit was 15 at 37-22 but USC managed to claw back within single digits by halftime. Boatwright knocked down a three to cut the lead to 42-34 and the Men of Troy went into the locker room down by seven.
The first half was interrupted for about 20 minutes after the power went out at the Galen Center with 5:27 to play in the half.
“It was weird,” Reinhardt said. “I was playing defense and the lights turned off. I thought it was like the Super Bowl.”
A city grid experiencing a power surge caused the outage, according to a USC spokesperson.
The Trojans will take whatever confidence they can get out of competing with a top-10 team to Las Vegas, where they will begin play in the Pac-12 tournament next Wednesday.
“It’s good that we know we can battle against top 10 teams in the country,” Reinhardt said. “Going into postseason now, we start fresh. It’s a whole new season starting Wednesday for us and we’re really excited about it.”