There’s always next year

Boogie Ellis driving to the basket with a defender warped around him.
Senior guard Boogie Ellis played in his final ever game as a Trojan against the Spartans on Friday, but wasn’t his normal self shooting just 3-12 from the field and totaling a measly 6 total points in the tough loss. (Cassandra Yra | Daily Trojan)

After a first-round exit to Miami in last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Trojans were hoping to make a deeper run in March Madness this year. Unfortunately, those dreams were shattered with a 72-62 loss at the hands of a talented Michigan State team. 

The Spartans came into this 7-10 matchup as the No. 7 seed following a loss to Ohio State in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament. 

Similarly, the Trojans came into this battle as the No. 10 seed following their first-round loss to Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament. Once again, USC got off to a slow start in this one and found themselves down 24-13 halfway through the first half.

USC didn’t back away though, going on an 18-6 run of their own to take a 31-30 lead to close out the half. The Trojans were fueled by 8 straight points from redshirt junior forward Joshua Morgan. Morgan, who averaged just 7 points per game this season, led USC in scoring with 14 points on an efficient 7-9 shooting. 

A jump hook by junior guard A.J. Hoggard tied the game for the Spartans right before half, with the two squads heading into the locker room knotted at 34.

Coming out of the half, USC looked to continue their pick and roll offense that was successful in the first half, but the Spartans had other plans. Michigan State clamped down on defense, holding the Trojans to just 34.38%, on 11-32 shooting from the floor in the second half.

At the 11:19 mark of the second half, graduate forward Drew Peterson’s jumper pulled USC back within four points, but that’s as close as they would get for the rest of the game. Back-to-back 3-pointers from graduate forward Joey Hauser and sophomore guard Jaden Akins capped off a 13-2 run from Michigan State that put the game out of reach for the Trojans.

Hauser led the way for the Spartans with 17 points and four key 3-pointers. Coming into this matchup, MSU was 16-3 when Hauser made two or more shots from behind the arc, and his 3-point shooting proved to be the difference maker again in this game.

“Timely shot-making by Michigan State and some timely misses on our part, I [think], was the difference in the game in the second half,” said Head Coach Andy Enfield in the postgame press conference. “We also had 8 turnovers [in the second half], only 3 at halftime.”

Sophomore guard Kobe Johnson’s two late-game triples alongside Michigan State missing the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones made things interesting down the stretch, but the Trojans were unable to take advantage on multiple occasions.

“When you’re trailing and you are trying to figure out and gauge whether to get threes or easier twos … we tried to find the best shot possible,” said Drew Peterson when asked what their mindset was when Michigan State missed their one-and-ones. “We missed some timely shots, and they hit their timely shots … I think it’s just sometimes the way the ball rolls in March.”

The Spartans’ ability to slow down USC’s star veterans, senior guard Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson, also led to their victory. The tandem, who had been averaging a combined 32 points per game on the season, combined for just 17 points on 7-22 shooting. Ellis took responsibility for his play after the game.

“I let my teammates down today,”  Ellis said. “I didn’t make shots and [Michigan State] made things tough for me.”

Michigan State will now face No. 2 Marquette in the Round of 32 on Sunday.

On the other hand, after another disappointing end to the season, Coach Enfield and the Trojans will have to go back to the drawing board this offseason. Although many players will be returning, USC will have a new look next season, as this was the last game in cardinal and gold for star captains Peterson and Ellis. 

Despite this, there should be a lot to look forward to next season, as 4-star recruits Arrinten Page and Silas Demary Jr. are coming to Southern California alongside the number-one-ranked player in the country, Isaiah Collier. 

The 2023-24 NCAA basketball season is set to start on Nov. 6 USC will seek its fourth straight NCAA Tournament in their last year in the Pac-12 Conference.