Men’s basketball falls to Colorado

As USC’s leading scorer, senior forward Bennie Boatwright has had to come through time and again for the Trojans — he did so again with 24 points in a losing effort against Colorado. (Josh Dunst/Daily Trojan)

After a close matchup throughout the game, USC fell to Colorado 69-65 at home due to poor shooting Saturday night.

The Trojans showcased their improved ball movement in the opening possessions of the game. After poor passing and shot selection against Utah, the Trojans appeared to bring a more patient mindset. They also played well on the defensive end, holding Colorado to 3 points in the first few minutes of the game.

The Trojans were unable to expand their lead over the Buffaloes due to a scoring slump. However, the team continued to move the ball around and force turnovers. After seven minutes of play, USC was ahead 12-11.

Both teams were held to 14 points through the first 10 minutes of the game, and their shooting struggles led to increased defensive efforts. Junior forward Nick Rakocevic was a major factor, as he was aggressive on the glass, capturing two offensive rebounds early in the game.

Senior guard Shaqquan Aaron was also a crucial facilitator as the Trojans gained a 21-19 lead over Colorado. Aaron had two straight assists, breaking down the defense and passing it out to junior Derryck Thornton for an open 3-pointer in the first instance. On the following possession, Aaron passed the ball to freshman guard Kevin Porter, who excited the crowd with a smooth reverse layup.

Aaron put an exclamation point on a strong first half performance with a 3-point play to tie the game at 26-26 with two minutes left. He drove into the Buffaloes defense, drawing contact and finishing the play with a free throw.

The Trojans tied the close matchup in the final seconds of the first half with another 3-point play. Porter attacked the basket in transition, making the layup and free throw. Overall, the Trojans shot poorly, but individual efforts tied the score at 29-29 by the end of the half.

Senior forward Bennie Boatwright opened the second-half scoring for the Trojans with a mid-range shot. He then intercepted a pass, and junior guard Jonah Mathews finished the play for a 33-31 lead two minutes in.

The Trojans continued to move the ball well with assisted scoring drives from Rakocevic and Boatwright. However, Colorado took the lead over USC with 5 straight points. The Buffaloes were ahead 44-39 with 13 minutes left in the second half.

Boatwright answered this Colorado run with a 2- and 3-pointer in consecutive possessions. The two teams battled to obtain a substantial lead, but neither could pull away.

Colorado freshman forward Evan Battey was a strong presence from the inside. He forced physical play from Rakocevic and caused him to sit out with foul trouble. With Rakocevic off the court, Aaron stepped up and hit two big 3-pointers. Colorado continued to press forward offensively, however, and USC was down 58-55 with six minutes left in the game.

In the final minutes of the game, both sides traded layups, keeping the game close. However, Colorado pulled ahead late with two free throws, and USC was unable to make the comeback.

“We had a couple of chances to win it or at least take the lead at the end,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “[The Buffaloes] were able to get to the rim and shoot two right-handed layups.”

Boatwright had a strong night with 24 points, five rebounds and four assists. Additionally, Aaron added 13 points with crucial shots down the stretch.

Colorado shot just 20 percent from the 3-point line, but USC was unable to take advantage due to its inefficient offense. Colorado also dominated on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 38-29. Rakocevic, who has been otherwise  solid this season, had just 8 points and six rebounds.

“[This game] came down to the wire, it could have gone either way,” Mathews said. “We need to keep playing and get some road wins.”

USC will go on the road to face Stanford at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The Trojans look to bounce back from this loss and re-establish themselves in the Pac-12 standings.