Trojans squeak out fourth straight victory

This one had all the signs of a crushing Trojan loss.

USC blew a six-point lead in the final two minutes, traveled and bricked two free throws in the final 30 seconds. The Trojans gave the Stanford Cardinal the final possession with a chance to win a game they had never trailed in the second half. Except the disappointment never came. Stanford guard Chasson Randle’s corner heave veered too far left, bouncing off the rim and giving the surging Trojans a well-earned 65-64 road upset in Palo Alto.

USC (12-13, 7-5 Pac-12) extends its season-best winning streak to four games, rising into a four-way tie for fourth place in the conference standings, just one game behind UCLA and No. 9 Arizona. Going into Thursday, USC had been 1-9 in its last 10 games at Stanford.

After their 5-10 start, the Trojans have won six of their past nine conference games, with a win at Cal on Sunday putting them back at .500 for the first time since being 3-3.

“When we have talent and have guys playing, we loosen it up and let guys play to their abilities,” USC coach Bob Cantu said. “Guys are playing hard, playing good offense, and we really look to win.”

USC led by 12 points at halftime, but Stanford gradually chopped down the lead until USC found itself up just 65-62 with exactly 30 seconds left. The Trojans inbounded the ball, but junior shooting guard J.T. Terrell traveled while being double-teamed, giving Stanford the ball back with 28.5 ticks to go.

After Stanford forward Dwight Powell used just three seconds to dominate senior forward Aaron Fuller and bank a shot in the lane, Stanford fouled and sent senior forward Eric Wise to the line instead of senior point guard Jio Fontan, who made all nine of his free throw attempts down the stretch. Wise clanked both off the rim, giving Stanford 18 seconds to turn their 65-64 deficit into a win. But the Trojans held fast.

The Cardinal couldn’t get a shot off in the first 16 seconds, as the swarming Trojan defense cut off passing lanes and prevented any good looks for Stanford. The ball went off a Trojan defender to give Stanford one inbound play with 1.8 seconds left. The red-hot Randle, who scored all of his 16 points in the second half, received the pass for the final shot, but Fontan’s aggressive defense forced Randle into an off-balanced fadeaway that just didn’t have enough accuracy to fall in.

Fontan led the Trojans with 15 points to go with five assists, while junior forward Dewayne Dedmon tied a season high with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting, as well as eight rebounds and two blocks. Terrell was the third Trojan in double digits with 12 points, while Wise was one point and one rebound shy of a double-double.

Forward Josh Huestis had a game to remember for Stanford, shooting 10-of-13 from the field en route to a career-high 22 points. Powell had 17 points and 17 rebounds, but the deciding stat for both teams was in free-throw shooting. USC shot 18-of-23 from the line, good for 78 percent, while Stanford hit just four out of 12 attempts.

“I think confidence is a lot of it,” Cantu said about USC’s improved free-throw shooting. “We’ve been shooting a lot in practice, and there’s been a carryover from practice to games as guys are getting more and more confident in games.” The Trojans have shot 81.9 percent from the charity stripe during the winning streak after shooting 66 percent in their first 21 games.

The Trojans came out running once again in the first half, with Dedmon matching his scoring average with six points in the game’s first 14 minutes to give USC an 11-10 lead. Stanford responded as Huestis scored seven straight points to put the Cardinal back up 15-11, but USC answered with a run of their own though, going on a 7-0 sprint as part of an extended 24-8 run. The Trojans finished the half in style; Terrell nailed a running 40-footer despite having three seconds left on the clock, giving USC a 35-23 halftime lead off a 12-2 run in the final four minutes.

The Cardinal chipped away at the lead in the second half, cutting it to four with 11:55 remaining, as the Trojans’ lead fluctuated between three and seven for the rest of the game until the Cardinal cut it down to one with a basket. But luckily for Cantu and these red-hot Trojans, the Cardinal were unable to muster one final basket.