USC kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive and moved into a tie for second place in the Pac-12 with a Wednesday night win that was in question for the majority of the game, even if the final score doesn’t say so.
The Trojans received an excellent game from Chimezie Metu, who scored 21 points on 10 of 16 shooting, grabbed three rebounds and blocked two shots in the 75-64 win. The difference-maker in the second half, though, was point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who drilled multiple 3-pointers when USC’s offense needed a spark to stop a 12-0 Colorado run. McLaughlin’s 18 points, six assists and four rebounds helped propel the Trojans past the Buffaloes’ late surge and send USC out of Boulder with a double-digit victory.
The win improved the Trojans to 20-9 and 11-5 in conference play. It’s the first time USC has recorded three straight 20-win seasons since 2007-2009, under Tim Floyd, and only the second time it’s ever happened in the program’s history. Here’s what we learned from the Trojans’ triumph.
USC misses Bennie Boatwright
Sure, this can be filed under the obvious statements category, but it was very apparent in the second half, when the Trojans desperately needed someone, anyone to get them a bucket and repeatedly failed to find a player to do so. The Trojans went more than three minutes without a bucket while the Buffaloes couldn’t be stopped, and USC’s 12-point lead disappeared. McLaughlin ended up quenching the drought, leading the offense with scoring and distribution efforts that keyed a late-game run, flipping the table on Colorado, which suddenly found itself in a drought of its own.
McLaughlin’s efforts — and Metu’s, though those were spread more over the entirety of the game — were enough to beat a green Colorado team in mid-February. But it remains to be seen (and is at this point seriously questioned) whether USC can weather future storms without Boatwright. This sticking point won’t go overlooked come Selection Sunday.
Colorado’s youth is maturing in front of our eyes
USC took a six-point lead into halftime, extended it to nine and then saw it reduced to a single possession before going on a run that made the game appear to be getting out of hand with 11 minutes to play. A good amount of young teams would have withered in such a situation, but Colorado stood firm, thanks to the contributions of bench contributor Lucas Siewert, who knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as part of a 12-0 run that tied the game up and made things close until the final minutes. Credit Colorado coach Tad Boyle for keeping his group of young players from throwing in the towel. While familiar issues ended up sinking them — untimely scoring droughts, poor interior defense and unforced errors — it was good to see an inexperienced group go blow for blow with a more seasoned opponent.
No fireworks from the sidelines
While the first meeting between Boyle and USC coach Andy Enfield created some pregame headlines and included a curious late-game timeout that prompted some bitter post-game quotes, we didn’t get the same kind of excitement from either coach in this one. Boyle’s team played inspired basketball but fell apart down the stretch, and USC coasted to a win that wasn’t disputable. Those tend to produce boring handshakes and whatnot. “Tad and Andy” would still be a good name for a goofy cartoon, though.
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