Trojans give away large lead late, fall to Cougars

The USC men’s basketball team came out running Thursday night but couldn’t keep it going as Washington State rallied from behind to hand the Trojans a 67-60 loss at the Galen Center.

Tough loss · Senior forward Marcus Johnson fouled out late in the game during the Trojans’ loss. Johnson finished with 16 points. - Tim Tran | Daily Trojan

USC (11-7, 3-3) led by as many as 15, but the Cougars charged back midway through the second half. Redshirt senior forward Marcus Johnson turned in a productive night, leading the Trojans with 16 points but came up short, with the rest of the team in the final minutes of the game.

Guard Reggie Moore had 21 points and six assists to pace Washington State (14-5, 4-3), and guard Klay Thompson — the nation’s fifth-leading scorer — added 20 points of his own.

“We were very aggressive in the first half defensively,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said after the game. “I thought we made it tough in the second half. We gave in for the first time in quite a while.”

Just minutes into the second half, it looked like the Trojans were on their way to a blowout. Redshirt junior forward Alex Stepheson scored five straight points before Johnson’s emphatic dunk put USC ahead 41-26.

But the visitors weren’t ready to call it a night. The Cougars proceeded to go on a 12-1 run, with forward Nikola Koprivica’s three-pointer cutting the lead to four with 15:25 to go. Meanwhile, the Trojans’ offense stalled.

“You can’t have both,” said senior forward Dwight Lewis, who finished with 13 points on 5-of -14 shooting. You can’t slack up on defense and not be scoring at the same time. If you do that, it will wind up in a loss like it did tonight.”

A 3-pointer by redshirt senior guard Mike Gerrity halted the Cougars’ surge temporarily. But USC’s vaunted defense, which had entered the game tied for first in the nation in points allowed per game, began to crack.

Even after the Trojans stretched the lead back to eight, Washington State kept coming back. With just under six minutes remaining, the Cougars scored on five straight possessions. Moore’s jumper with 3:17 left gave the road team a 58-55 lead.

“Moore’s a heck of a player,” O’Neill said. “No matter who we put on him, we couldn’t keep in front.”

After Moore made two free throws, another three by Gerrity cut the lead to two and energized a crowd hoping the Trojans would make a comeback of their own.

But that hope was short-lived, as USC just couldn’t convert in the final two minutes and the Cougars closed out the game at the line.

“We just didn’t have a good half defensively,” O’Neill said. “We just collapsed.”

The Trojans won’t have much time to reflect on their second-half meltdown. Washington (12-6, 3-4) comes to town Saturday night for some more Pac-10 action at the Galen Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

“You can dwell on it tonight,” Lewis said of the loss. “But you’ve got to get ready for a good Washington team coming in.”