Failure can be beneficial in sports. It serves as a great motivator and brings greater attention to areas that need improvement. But it’s hard to come away from the USC men’s basketball team’s 79-74 overtime loss at Oregon State Thursday without focusing on just how close the Trojans were to winning.
The game was decided by a matter of inches — that’s how close freshman guard Kevin Porter was to making what would have been a game-tying layup in the extra frame. Porter, playing in his first game since he sustained a thigh bruise, couldn’t find the energy to get all the way to the rim, instead opting for a finger roll.
Beavers junior forward Kylor Kelley extended his 7-foot frame and rose up for his seventh block of the night. Oregon State made a few free throws to seal the victory, and the Trojans had to deal with a stinging defeat.
The loss was all the more frustrating because it wasted an incredible performance from senior forward Bennie Boatwright. Boatwright stepped up time and time again for the Trojans, pouring in a career-high 37 points on 14-of-24 shooting and 4-of-9 from three, also adding eight rebounds.
Beavers senior guard Stephen Thompson matched Boatwright shot for shot, however, tallying a career-high 34 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. No matter who USC defended him with, Thompson got what he wanted — shooting 11-of-19 from the field.
Although their chances to win the game came late, the Trojans will look back at Oregon State’s 18-to-0 run in the first half as the point when they lost this game. The Beavers, down 25-14 at one point, out-worked and out-executed USC during this stretch, building a lead that they would hold for most of regulation.
Boatwright’s heroics brought USC back, and the Trojans even held a 2-point lead in the final minutes of the second half until Beavers sophomore guard Ethan Thompson made a put-back to tie the game at 66. Boatwright missed a shot from the top of the key just before the buzzer, and Oregon State outlasted the Trojans in overtime.
However, the Trojans can’t dwell on this loss. As head coach Andy Enfield finally regains the pieces that had so many USC fans hopeful coming into the season, he’s set to square off against a coach who knows what an injury-derailed season feels like.
“It’s a blow,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “But hey, it’s college basketball. You have to adjust. Other guys are going to have to step up.”
After being projected to finish first in the Pac-12 preseason rankings, Altman has lost projected lottery pick freshman center Bol Bol to foot surgery, Pac-12 All-Defensive Team member sophomore forward Kenny Wooten to a fractured jaw and sophomore forward Abu Kigab to a transfer to Boise State.
Before being ruled out for the season, Bol was the focal point for Oregon on both sides of the court, averaging 21 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. Since the 7-foot-2 center went down, the Ducks have yet to top 75 points and has lost much of the luster that created so much hype in Eugene and across the nation.
At 12.4 points per game, junior guard Pritchard Payton is the new leading scorer for the Bol-less Ducks. Payton will be hoping to right the ship, as he’s shot 11-for-39 from the field and 7-for-26 from deep over the last three games. Payton is one of just three upperclassmen on the Ducks’ roster and is the lone healthy player averaging double-digits in scoring.
With only eight scholarship players and a roster filled with underclassmen, Oregon lacks both the talent and veteran leadership to defeat a USC team growing stronger by the day.
Porter and freshmen guard Elijah Weaver returned to practice this week and finally seem poised to put the Trojans back to full strength. The duo’s return will be just their second on-court stint all season, with a 95-59 routing of Stetson being the lone appearance of the highly touted freshmen guards. In their return, Enfield can look forward to quality production as the two have combined averages of 20.6 points and 5.7 assists, albeit in limited samplings.
The Trojans are as close to full strength as they have been all season and are riding high off a four-game winning streak, making their matchup against an undermanned Oregon squad seem all but determined. However, as the early season loss to Santa Clara made evident, no away game is an easy victory in college basketball.
USC will attempt to win on the road Sunday at 5 p.m. as they take on the Oregon Ducks in Eugene.