USC basketball: What went wrong against Providence

Andy Enfield's Trojans did not play well down the stretch in their loss to Providence on Thursday. Samuel Chang | Daily Trojan

Andy Enfield’s Trojans did not play well down the stretch in their loss to Providence on Thursday. Samuel Chang | Daily Trojan

When looking back at USC’s heartbreaking defeat to Providence in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday, you’ll likely think of the defensive lapse at the end when the Trojans left Providence sophomore forward Rodney Bullock wide open under the basket for a game-winning layup.

But the contest was lost well before then, as the Trojans did just about all they could to give the game away to the Friars down the stretch.

With that in mind, I took the liberty of (painfully) re-watching the final two and a half minutes and going down the list of everything that went wrong.

This sequence began with 2:41 to play, when redshirt junior guard Katin Reinhardt hit two free throws to give USC a five-point lead.

From that point on, the Trojans were outscored 7-1 by the Friars, committed two turnovers and went 1-of-4 from the foul line the rest of the way. They were also held without a field goal for the final four minutes of the game.

Chalk it up to inexperience, to a young roster, to mental mistakes – whatever. The narrative in the coming days will paint USC as an unseasoned team that will learn from this debacle and come back stronger next season with all their main pieces returning and a prime recruiting class. Still, the fact of the matter remains: had they committed one fewer turnover, made one more free throw, converted a dunk or slowed it down and wasted clock rather than forcing up a shot, the Trojans might very well be preparing for North Carolina on Saturday.

But, as Reggie Miller said on the broadcast, “USC was playing with fire.”

And when you play with fire for too long, you get burned.


Reinhardt knocks down a pair of free throws to give USC a 68-63 advantage.


Sophomore guard Jordan McLaughlin records a steal, but hurries a pass toward junior guard Julian Jacobs that is underthrown and intercepted by Providence junior guard Kris Dunn. Dunn pushes the ball up the court and dishes to sophomore forward Ben Bentil for an easy dunk.

USC 68, Providence 65


Another bad pass as Jacobs can’t find junior forward Nikola Jovanovic and the Friars once again take advantage of the turnover. Dunn hits a long 3-pointer to tie the game on the other end. Just like that, the lead is gone.

USC 68, Providence 68.


Out of a timeout, the Trojans work the ball down to freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, who is fouled by Bullock at the rim but can’t finish the dunk for the and-one.

“That’s got to be a 3-point play,” Miller says on the TBS broadcast.

Boatwright, a 74-percent free throw shooter during the regular season, makes one of two and USC re-takes the lead. But it’s just a one-point advantage instead of three.

USC 69, Providence 68


After a missed 3-pointer by Providence, McLaughlin grabs the rebound and, instead of wasting clock, attacks the basket and forces up a layup that misses.

“I should have pulled the ball out,” he tells the Los Angeles Daily News after the game.

USC 69, Providence 68


Play continues as Dunn can’t connect on a jumper and the frantic sequence ends with sophomore guard Elijah Stewart being fouled after grabbing the rebound.

But USC is not yet in the double-bonus, meaning Stewart has to make the first foul shot to get a second one. He’s a 75 percent free throw shooter.

He misses.

“Any other day, that shot goes in,” Stewart tells the Los Angeles Times afterwards. “But we’re in March now. Shots that you usually shoot just aren’t the same.”

USC 69, Providence 68


A lot has happened in 15 seconds.

The Trojans just came up with a big defensive stand as Bentil was denied at the rim twice by both Stewart and freshman forward Chimezie Metu. The ball goes out of bounds off of Bentil, the officials rule after replay review, giving USC possession up by one with a clear path to victory.

Still, they dance on the edge of the cliff. The Trojans are saved once when McLaughlin is trapped in corner off the inbounds and the Friars force a jump ball, but the possession arrow points toward USC. They are saved again on the ensuing inbounds when Jacobs, out of control, dribbles the ball off his knee and out of bounds, but the officials rule that Providence sophomore guard Kyron Cartwright fouled him before he lost the ball.

So Jacobs, who shoots 71 percent from the line, is up for another one-and-one.

He also misses.

USC 69, Providence 68


You don’t miss so many clutch free throws, turn the ball over twice and use poor shot selection and have it not come back to bite you. You don’t botch late-game execution that badly and not succumb to karma.

In a non-conference game early in the season? Maybe. In the NCAA tournament, where the winner has a chance to advance to the Sweet 16? Hell no.

The Trojans nearly did – somehow holding a lead with three seconds to go – pushing karma to its limits until they ran out of breaks. The way it happened was almost poetic justice, losing a man right under the basket on an inbounds play – a cardinal sin in basketball and a sour cherry on top of a bonanza of Trojan miscues.

You watch the replay on a loop, and it becomes more and more painful each time: Stewart begins guarding Bullock, but Bullock slips right by him and towards the rim. Metu and Jacobs are both in the area where Bullock eventually winds up, but Jacobs vacates because he’s chasing his man and Metu inexplicably runs toward a Providence player at the 3-point line, despite the fact that the Friars don’t need a 3-pointer.

Bullock, now wide open, catches and banks it in. Jacobs’ desperation fling at the buzzer is no good.

Final: Providence 70, USC 69

Eric He is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Fridays.