The USC men’s basketball team had an opportunity to end the nation’s longest home winning streak, but couldn’t seal the deal. Despite Donte Smith’s second consecutive 20-point effort off the bench, USC (6-5) fell 70-68 to No. 3 Kansas (10-0) Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
“To be honest, we really gave that game away,” Smith said. “We played way harder than they did in the second half. We just didn’t grab a couple of rebounds.”
In the last four and a half minutes, Kansas pulled down four offensive rebounds. Their last three field goals all came after offensive rebounds. Two of the offensive boards led to 3-pointers by Jayhawks’ freshman Josh Selby, including the game-winning basket with 26 seconds remaining.
And yet, USC still had a chance. Trailing by one with 6.4 seconds remaining, Smith inbounded the ball to Jio Fontan, who scored 15 points in his Trojan debut, but the Fordham transfer stepped on the sideline, giving the ball back to Kansas.
USC then fouled Tyrel Reed on the inbound. He made the first before missing the second. Freshman Maurice Jones tracked down the rebound in the corner, but as was the case for him all day, his cross-court heave bounced off the front of the rim.
“I thought it had a chance for a minute when I let it go,” Jones said. “But it ended up going a little to the right.”
Jones finished without making a field goal for only the second time in his young career – coincidentally both last second losses for the Trojans.
While USC’s freshmen struggled – Bryce Jones was also scoreless from the field — Kansas’ highly-touted freshman lived up to the hype.
Making his much-awaited debut following a nine-game suspension for receiving improper benefits, Selby came off the bench and led all scorers with 21 points, making five of his eight 3-point attempts.
“He shot the ball unbelievably well from behind the arc,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “He bailed us out; he saved us.”
Before Selby’s two clutch shots late in the game, Smith looked to be the hero for the second straight game. He continued his fire streak knocking down five 3-pointers in the second half.
“I’m just playing with confidence,” Smith said of his back-to-back performances – the best two games of his USC career.
USC trailed 31-20 at halftime and looked lethargic, particularly on offense. Several possessions saw the Trojans pounding the ball on the deck near half court for 15-20 seconds and then having to go one-on-one with the shot clock winding down.
Coach Kevin O’Neill went with a small lineup inserting the 5-foot-11 Smith at small forward to begin the second half. The Trojans showed more energy and slowly began working on Kansas’ lead until a 13-2 run beginning with just under 11 minutes remaining gave USC its first lead of the game.
The two teams traded the lead seven times in the final eight minutes of the game. But it was the veteran Jayhawks and their stud rookie that did the little things to continue their winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse, where they have now won 65 straight.
“We wanted to end the streak,” Smith said. “We just didn’t grab a rebound at the end, but we got another big game to get ready for.”
Alex Stepheson had a season-high 18 points on a season-high 15 field goal attempts. Nikola Vucevic scored only 13 points (6-of-8 shooting) as he was constantly harassed by double teams. Both big men grabbed eight rebounds, but neither could collect the big defensive rebounds when the Trojans needed them the most down the stretch.
The Trojans continue traveling east, heading to Knoxville to take on Tennessee on Tuesday at 7 p.m. EST.