Men’s basketball can’t overcome lackadaisical start, gets burned by Sun Devils

Boogie Ellis slams to the floor with the ball in his hands with 3 ASU defenders around him.
Senior guard Boogie Ellis left it all on the floor, but it wasn’t enough as the Trojans still lost by 5 points to ASU on Thursday night. (Louis Chen | Daily Trojan)

Senior guard and captain Boogie Ellis fouled out of Thursday night’s Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals game against Arizona State with 46 seconds left. Ellis threw himself down on the bench in frustration and put his head in his hands as the closing seconds of the game ticked off. 

This about summed up how Ellis and the rest of the Trojans were feeling after their 77-72 loss at the hands of the Sun Devils.

“I kind of let my team down and I didn’t play to my capabilities, so as a leader on the team I just got to be better,” Ellis said in the postgame press conference.

The loss was reminiscent of the last time USC and ASU matched up. Even though the Trojans squeezed out a 68-65 win March 4, they almost squandered a 14-point second-half lead. The Sun Devils picked up right where they left off five days later, jumping out to an 8-0 lead only 65 seconds into the game. The Sun Devils went into the half with a 14-point lead and never looked back.

“We just didn’t come out ready to play in the first half, and they just wanted it more than [us],” said sophomore guard Kobe Johnson. “We just came out soft and this time of the year, you can’t come out soft.”

While the Trojans may have finished the game on a stronger note, they were not able to put anything together offensively in the first half. They ended the half shooting 1 for 11 from the field and were shooting just 25.9% overall in the opening half. USC’s 25 first-half points were the fewest they’ve had in any half of a Pac-12 tournament game since the 2011-2012 season; the Trojans finished 6-26 that year.

The Sun Devils were scorching hot from 3-point range, knocking down 14 of their 32 shots from deep. While the Trojans shot 38.1% from distance, the Sun Devils had the volume advantage, putting up 11 more 3-point shots than the Trojans. 

Fifth-year guard Desmond Cambridge Jr. led the charge for ASU, hitting 6 3-pointers on the way to a season-high 27 points.

“They made some really tough shots tonight — a lot of threes and shot clock shots which were very difficult, so give them credit,” said Head Coach Andy Enfield.

Head Coach Andy Enfield talking to one of the referees.
USC’s 7-game win-streak in their opening game in the Pac-12 tournament was snapped against ASU. (Louis Chen | Daily Trojan)

Entering the game, the Trojans were 8-1 this season when they had four players score in double figures. Despite reaching that mark, USC could not bring home the win. 

However, it wasn’t just scoring that was the problem for the Trojans — they almost matched their season scoring average of 72.8 points — it was USC’s defense. ASU dominated on the offensive boards, securing 14 offensive rebounds and scoring 21 second-chance points. 

USC also had trouble taking care of the ball, turning the ball over 14 times in the game. This was the Sun Devils’ 25th consecutive conference game forcing their opponent to double-digit turnovers.

“To have 1 assist and 7 turnovers at halftime — it was just a shock to me and everybody. I think because we weren’t passing the ball at the right time and sharing the ball like we need to,” Enfield said. “That’s embarrassing because we’re a good offensive team.”

USC has had the Sun Devils’ number as of late, beating them twice previously this season and seven times in a row overall before today. This was the first time in Pac-12 tournament history that the Trojans lost to ASU, having won the previous four times.

With the Trojans knocked out of the Pac-12 tournament, it is up to the NCAA selection committee to decide whether USC’s season will continue. The Trojans will have to wait until Sunday to see if they receive an at-large bid to the March Madness tournament.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity this year with our roster, but that’s why I’m so proud. This has been the most improved team we’ve had in a long time, maybe ever in the 10 years I’ve been here as the head coach,” Enfield said. “Where that puts us on Sunday, it’s not my decision, but I’m very proud as a head coach of what these guys have accomplished.”

USC awaits Selection Sunday at 3 p.m to see if they will make March Madness for the third straight season, as they hope what happens in Vegas will stay in Vegas.