Senior captain Bennie Boatwright watched a lot of film on Santa Clara before Tuesday’s matchup at Leavey Center. He wasn’t prepared for the onslaught that awaited them.
“I’ve never seen them play this well,” Boatwright said.
If USC thought it could waltz into Santa Clara for a much-needed win to snap out of a three-game losing skid, then it received much more than it bargained for. Instead of an expected easy win against an inferior WCC opponent, the Trojans fell in double overtime, 102-92, for their fourth straight loss.
USC had not lost to Santa Clara since 1984. More importantly, the loss continued a disturbing trend of defeats that has head coach Andy Enfield searching for answers as the Trojans fall below .500 for the first time this season.
“I don’t know what to say anymore,” Enfield said.
Not many of the 2,226 in attendance did, either, as they watched a Santa Clara team down to its third string center and with seven scholarship players available dominate USC early on and hold off several runs by the Trojans to pull out a double-overtime victory. Though the Trojans were shorthanded themselves, with eight scholarship players available — and freshman guard Kevin Porter Jr. not making the trip due to a quad contusion — they still had a clear talent advantage on a Broncos squad that had not beaten anyone of consequence before Tuesday.
“I’m the head coach and it’s on me,” Enfield said. “I have to figure this out and my staff. There’s only one person to blame for this loss and that’s me.”
Defensive lapses felled the Trojans late, as they had leads in the final seconds of both regulation and the first overtime. With both Boatwright and junior forward Nick Rakocevic fouled out, USC was outscored 13-3 in double overtime. Santa Clara scored the game’s final 6 points to pull away.
USC trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half, but rallied to take an 80-79 lead on a layup by junior guard Jonah Mathews with 24 seconds left in regulation. But sophomore forward Jordan Usher lost track of his man on the ensuing Santa Clara possession, resulting in a foul and overtime after Santa Clara’s Josip Vrankic split two free throws.
In overtime, redshirt senior guard Shaqquan Aaron made a pair of foul shots to put USC ahead 89-87 with 11 seconds to play, but Santa Clara’s Trey Wertz drove right past redshirt junior guard Derryck Thornton for a game-tying layup to force double overtime.
“All of our guys have had equal opportunity to step up and make plays,” Enfield said, “so it is frustrating because we have some veteran guys on this team who have made crucial mistakes on offense and defense, especially in important parts of the game when the other team goes on runs.”
Wertz led all scorers with 28 points, and accounted for 11 of Santa Clara’s 13 points in double overtime. Usher had 22 points to lead the Trojans, while Mathews chipped in 20 points.
USC once again started off poorly, missing its first eight shots attempts and seven 3-point shots. The Trojans shot 38.7 percent from the field in the first half, while the Broncos were at nearly 60 percent and jumped out to a 42-31 lead at halftime. Against Oklahoma on Saturday, the Trojans began the game shooting 1-of-9 from the field.
“It’s a common thing,” Boatwright said. “We do it every single game. We come out slow and we have to claw our way back.”
Enfield hinted at potentially making changes to the starting lineup, and called out his veterans for the sluggish openings.
“In our starting lineup, we have some guys who’ve been around a lot, and that shouldn’t happen,” he said.
Though the Trojans came to life in the second half, shooting nearly 50 percent, the hole they dug themselves in the first half was too deep to climb out of. And they were not going to win, according to Enfield, shooting 5-of-28 from the 3-point line. If USC’s previous three losses — which came by an average of 19 points — were not wake-up calls, losing to a team picked to finish second-to-last in the WCC this season serves as the fire alarm going off, if the Trojans want any hope of a successful 2018-2019 campaign.
“We’ve got to figure out how to put our guys in position to win games,” Enfield said. “We’ll keep at it.”