In a back and forth battle between two of the top teams in the Pac-12 standings Saturday afternoon, USC overcame a 20-point halftime deficit to edge Stanford in overtime, 82-78.
The Trojans came back from down 5 points in the final 15 seconds of regulation. Guards freshman Ethan Anderson and senior Jonah Mathews stole consecutive inbounds passes, resulting in 5 points to erase Stanford’s lead and forcing overtime in front of an electric Galen Center crowd.
The game-tying bucket came on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Elijah Weaver while he was being fouled with just seven seconds remaining.
It was an improbable comeback by USC. Through the first 10 minutes of the game, the Trojans were able to stay within one or two possessions of a physical Stanford team, but a late first half run by the Cardinal pushed the lead to double digits as the game began to slip away from USC.
A deep 3-pointer from freshman guard Tyrell Terry beat the first half buzzer to push the lead to 45-25 in favor of Stanford, concluding an abysmal first half for the Trojans.
“[In the] first half, we weren’t really playing smart, we weren’t playing together,” freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu said after the game. “We were playing soft.”
USC head coach Andy Enfield’s group showed resilience coming out of halftime, as a 10-1 run to start the second helped the Trojans cut the lead to just 8 points, awakening the Galen Center crowd and forcing a Stanford timeout.
“We would not have won this without our fan support because they gave our players energy and that’s what a home court advantage is supposed to be,” Enfield said.
The Trojans’ defense allowed them to make it a competitive game in the second half. Enfield said the Trojans increased their defensive energy out of the break, as they sliced the Cardinal’s field goal percentage from 65.6% in the opening 20 minutes to just 34.8% in the second.
But in the middle of the second half, USC had a hard time further closing the gap. Stanford’s 3-point shooting pushed the lead back up to 15 at one point.
The Cardinal finished the night shooting 10 of 20 from beyond the arc — aided in large part by freshman forward Spencer Jones’ 6 of 10.
USC, on the other hand, hit only 5 of 19 threes just two days after going 14 of 23 against Cal.
Mathews had a rough afternoon shooting — going 6 of 18 overall and hitting 2 of 8 3-pointers — but he found his stroke late in the game and hit a couple key jumpers when USC had pulled within single digits. Mathews finished with 19 points.
“Jonah made some huge plays down the stretch,” Enfield said. “It was his competitive spirit that helped will his teammates to stay in the game and try to win.”
It was an off night for senior forward Nick Rakocevic, who went 0-7 from the field, but consistent effort on the defensive end of the floor and key rebounds in the second half salvaged the afternoon for the senior.
USC received yet another solid performance from Okongwu, who finished with a team-high 22 points — his seventh game with at least 20 points this season.
But Okongwu spent crucial minutes on the bench down the stretch after getting into foul trouble late and eventually fouling out in overtime.
Without their star freshman, Enfield and the Trojans relied on timely 3-pointers from sophomore guard Elijah Weaver and Anderson late in the game.
Weaver, who is still adjusting to his role off the bench, picked up the scoring burden in overtime for USC, scoring 8 of the Trojans’ 13 points.
Free throws ended up being the difference for USC, as redshirt senior guard Daniel Utomi hit two from the charity stripe with three seconds left, giving USC a perfect 6 of 6 from the line in overtime and icing the game.
After the final buzzer sounded, Weaver ran across the court to celebrate in front of the USC student section.
“Trojan family, that’s what it’s all about,” Weaver said. “Big time crowd, big time game, big time shots. That’s what it’s all about.”
USC has won nine of its last ten games and now holds a share of first place in the Pac-12 conference.
“This is big,” Weaver said. “Being No. 1 in anything is big.”
USC will have a few days to regain its focus before traveling to Eugene, Ore. to take on the high-flying No. 8 Oregon Ducks Thursday at 8 p.m.