Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin was as cool as ice down the stretch in Eugene, Ore., where the Trojans battled the Ducks to the final buzzer Thursday night.
Up by a point with 38 seconds to play, McLaughlin was at the line trying to extend USC’s lead — and he did. The senior captain made both free throws. Then, after Oregon’s Paul White rebutted with a made layup, McLaughlin was fouled again. And, again, he made both free throws to set the score at 73-70.
In desperation, on the next possession, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard shot and missed a 3-pointer well beyond the top of the key. Who else could have come away with the rebound but McLaughlin? Pritchard was forced to foul McLaughlin to stop the clock, but it was too late for the Ducks. McLaughlin, in his third trip to the line in a span of 20 seconds, iced the game with his fifth and sixth free throws in the final minute. The final score: USC over Oregon, 75-70.
It was a desperately needed road win for USC (14-6, 5-2). Any Pac-12 road win is like a cherry on top over the course of a demanding conference schedule. This one keeps USC only one game behind conference co-leaders Arizona and Stanford. Moreover, such a conference road win certainly bolsters USC’s NCAA Tournament resume. Prior to tip-off, ESPN college basketball analyst Joe Lunardi ranked the Trojans as one of the first four teams out of the tournament.
Oregon (12-7, 2-4), on the other hand, will likely miss the tournament only a year after reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1939. The 2017-18 season is a rebuilding year for Oregon’s program. The Ducks lost their top five scorers from a year ago, including Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks and current Golden State Warrior Jordan Bell.
After bleeding talent to the NBA, Oregon was sitting Ducks for USC’s first win in Eugene since 2009—before the Matthew Knight Arena had been built. Tonight’s win for USC also snapped a 14-game overall losing streak to the Ducks.
For once, USC had the talent advantage over Oregon on the court, but the Ducks were not intimidated. Backed by a raucous home crowd, the Ducks overcame a 10-point first half deficit and traded the lead with the Trojans down to the final minute of the game.
However, USC’s best shined brightest. Junior forwards Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright scored 18 apiece. Meanwhile, senior guards Elijah Stewart and McLaughlin led the team in rebounding. McLaughlin nearly finished with a triple double: 11 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Once again, sophomore guard Jonah Mathews proved valuable off the bench with 11 points. Since ceding his starting job to junior Shaqquan Aaron three games ago, Mathews has been one of USC’s leading scorers.
While USC blew a double-digit lead, they closed out a Pac-12 road win, which is never easy to do. The Trojans have now won five of their past six games and seem to be making a formidable march toward the top of the Pac-12 standings. Over the next three weeks, USC will play UCLA, Stanford and Arizona, the league’s three top teams in the standings, plus Arizona State, which has started conference play poorly but has been ranked as high as third nationally earlier in the season.
Road wins against middling teams like Oregon are essential for the Trojans to build some cushion into their conference record before a looming stretch of games — probably the season’s most difficult slate.
Depending on their upcoming play, the Trojans could move out of Lunardi’s bracket bubble. With a sweep of wins, they could virtually secure a spot in the Big Dance. With an array of losses, their outlook could be much less promising.
Next up, the Trojans will travel to Corvallis for a Saturday night matchup against the Oregon State Beavers (11-7, 3-3). The game tips off at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks.
The team will aim to extend its conference winning streak to four games before returning to the Galen Center to face Stanford (11-8, 5-1) in a rematch on Wednesday.