With one game remaining in the regular season, the USC men’s basketball team was looking to put an end to an eight-game losing streak and pick up some momentum going into the Pac-12 tournament. Instead, the Trojans (6-25, 1-17) fell Saturday night to Washington State (15-15, 7-11) in a closely contested game at the Galen Center by a score of 43-38.
The Trojans had one of their lowest-scoring first halves of the season, putting up 14 points while shooting 5-for-23 (21.7 percent) from the floor.
Only three players — sophomore guard Maurice Jones, freshman guard Alexis Moore, and junior center James Blasczyk — scored in the first 20 minutes of action.
“We came out kind of flat,” sophomore forward Garrett Jackson said. “We had a chance to win it.”
USC made a furious comeback in the second half, holding the Cougars scoreless for more than nine minutes to cut the lead to three points with 31 seconds remaining.
Late free throws by Washington State and a missed 3-point attempt by junior guard Greg Allen iced the game for the Cougars.
“We did fight our tails off down the stretch and put ourselves in a position to win the game,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “We missed some clutch free throws and some wide-open threes. We didn’t get it done.”
Washington State was led by forward Brock Motum, who scored 27 points, including his team’s first 13 points of the second half. No other player on the Cougars finished with more than six points.
“We made Brock Motum look like Larry Bird the second half in particular,” O’Neill said. “I don’t want to take anything away from him — there’s a guy who has become a very, very good player.”
The Trojans got 11 points from Jones, who was aided by Moore’s nine points (all from 3-pointers) and Jackson’s eight points and six rebounds.
Freshman forward Byron Wesley, who was averaging close to 20 points over his previous four games, finished with five on 1-for-7 shooting.
“They backed off him completely and took away his driving game,” O’Neill said. “What Byron is going to have to do if he wants to be a premier player, which he has a chance to be, is get in the gym every day for two hours and work on his shot.”
On Wednesday, the Trojans will take on UCLA (18-13, 11-7) in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at the Staples Center. USC enters the tournament as the 12th seed.
UCLA, coming off a 75-69 victory over Washington, will serve as the fifth seed. The Bruins defeated USC in both their meetings this season. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m.
“I hope we do what we’ve been doing most of the year — and that’s playing as hard as we can and giving ourselves a chance to win,” O’Neill said.