Breakdown: Trojans Rally Falls Just Short

LOS ANGELES -- Full breakdown of USC basketball's near 13-point comeback against Stanford.

USC point guard Jordan McLaughlin got into the lane, but rather than rising up for a game-winning shot, he went sprawling to the ground with a game-ending turnover. McLaughlin’s lost his balance after a devastating crossover and tripped over his over feet, stumbling to the hardwood. He tried to get the ball to a teammate, but Stefan Nastic picked off the pass attempt, effectively ending USC’s comeback attempt from a 13-point deficit

It came down to the wire, but Stanford escaped the Galen Center with a 78-76 victory Sunday night to improve to 11-4 and 3-1 in conference play while USC fell to 9-7 (1-3). Four Stanford players scored in double figures led by Anthony Brown’s 21 points. Leading scorer Chasson Randle was held to 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Julian Jacobs led USC with 16 points.

-- BREAKING IT DOWN --

Key moment(s): Game on the Line. Jordan McLaughlin will likely have several game-winning buckets before his USC career ends, but he couldn’t get the first one on Sunday night at the Galen Center. With the Trojans trailing by one point, head coach Andy Enfield called timeout with 7.7 seconds left. He put the ball in the hands of his freshman playmaker in a 1-4 offensive set.

Stanford set up in a tightly packed zone defense with All-Pac-12 point guard, Chasson Randle, and another Cardinal guard perched just inside the three-point arc. McLaughlin took the ball on the right side, dribbled left toward the top of the key before quickly crossing back to his right, going by both defenders to get into the lane. But McLaughlin crossed so quickly, he threw off his balance and ended up slipping. He turned the ball over as he was falling to the ground. The game-winning shot was there but never got hoisted.

“He would have had a four- or five-foot floater to win the game, if he wouldn't have tripped because he got by two guys. He just tripped," Enfield said. "He would have had a clean look at the basket or probably would have had a nice pass if someone would have helped up at the end.”

Stanford's Stefan Nastic, who picked off McLaughlin’s pass and was fouled, knocked down one of two free throws and Elijah Stewart's full-court heave was short, landing in the hands of a Cardinal player. Only then did Stanford let go a giant exhalation and walk away with the victory.

Cold Cardinal. With 8:24 remaining, Nastic made a layup to put Stanford up 74-61. That’s when Jack Frost touched the Cardinal. Stanford made just one field goal after that point, scoring four points in the final eight minutes of the game. The Trojans took advantage in the final six and a half minutes.

Julian Jacobs stepped in front of a Nastic pass and took it the distance, throwing down a dunk. He got another layup after collecting an offensive rebound and was fouled on the play. He knocked down the free throw for the old fashioned three-point play. Elijah Stewart showed off his ridiculous jumping ability on a missed three-point shot. He skied above he rim and slammed home a hammer putback dunk.

Free throws cut the lead down to three points with 1:27 remaining. Stanford burned some clock with its subsequent possession, but Anthony Brown missed a 3-pointer — the Cardinal’s 11th miss from deep in the second half (1-for-12). The rebound got tipped and a Stanford player at the top of the key, rather than retreating on defense, attacked the board. But Malik Marquetti snatched it and fired the ball ahead to McLaughlin, who had leaked out and finished off an uncontested breakaway layup with 49 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game. Another missed jumper from Brown and another Marquetti board set the stage for USC’s final full possession.

Four-point barrier. After a sluggish start, USC trimmed an early seven-point lead down to 13-11, but Stanford answered with an 11-2 run to take control of the game. Until the final 90 seconds of the game, every time the Trojans tried to make a run, they got the lead down to four points only to see the Cardinal nail a dagger.

Three times in the first half, USC cut the lead to four. The first time a missed layup from Katin Reinhardt turned into a Rosco Allen 3-pointer. Julian Jacobs matched to cut it back to four, but Brown drained one of his three first-half deep balls. Jacobs second 3-pointer made it 46-42 later in the half, but Randle drilled a contested 3-pointer from the top of the key.

In the first seven minutes of the second half, five times USC had the lead down to four points. Stanford scored the next basket each time and four of those times came on the very next possession. It wasn’t until McLaughlin's free throws with 1:27 to go that the Trojans finally broke the four-point barrier.

Player of the Game: Julian Jacobs. Starting in place of McLaughlin, Julian Jacobs followed the best game of his career with another performance worthy of being in that conversation. Jacobs brought a lot of energy and did a little bit of everything, scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including knocking down both of his three-point attempts. He also had three rebounds, three steals and two assists to only one turnover.

“He’s improved his shooting dramatically from last year,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “I don’t know if you can tell that because he’s not a volume three-point shooter. He shoots it when he’s open. Like tonight, he made a couple of threes.”

Despite McLaughlin’s return, Jacobs still played 33 minutes since Enfield used Jacobs at the point. He also often used the pair of guards together with McLaughlin playing the shooting guard role.

“I liked what we saw,” Enfield said. “Whenever you have two guys on the court, if you look at even the last couple of national champions, they’ve had two combo/point guards that can penetrate, break the defense down, it’s extremely hard to guard. That gives us that extra ball handler and penetrator on the court.

Post-Game Player(s) Interview: Jordan McLaughlin talks about his return from his shoulder injury and what he saw on the Trojans’ penultimate play:

Most Spectacular Play(s): Sky High Slam. It’s been quite the change of scenery for freshman wing Elijah Stewart. Three weeks ago, he had one of the best games in school history, producing 22 points on a perfect 10-for-10 shooting performance at Boston College. In the four games since, he had scored 10 points total, going 2-for-23 from the field with both of those baskets coming from beyond the arc against Colorado. Along with not making a two-point basket in three weeks, he has also been demoted from the starting lineup.

Well, Stewart put quite the emphatic end to his two-point basket drought. With the Trojans trailing by eight points, Jordan McLaughlin tried to cut into the lead with a 3-pointer from the left wing. The ball hit the front of the rim and bounced to the right of the goal. Stanford didn’t put a body on Stewart, who came flying in from the right wing. He snatched the ball on the right side of his body, pulled it in, centering it above his head and slammed home the putback with 4:29 to go.

Highlights:

Unsung Hero: Malik Martin. Game by game, the 6-foot-11 Malik Martin continues to show improvement. After averaging just 3.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in his first eight games, which did include four games after returning from a bone contusion on his knee, Martin has stepped it up the last five games.

With nine points and a career-high seven rebounds on Sunday, the freshman from Florida now has five straight games with at least six points and at least five rebounds. In those five contests, he is averaging 8.6 points and 6.0 rebounds. And he is doing it without many shots. Martin is 19-for-31 (61.3 percent) in the last five games and has at least one block in the last four games.

But possibly the most impressive thing about Martin’s performance against Stanford was his 3-for-4 shooting from the free throw line. He had previously been 2-for-11 this season.

"Step It Up:" Katin Reinhardt. Maybe the expectations were unfair? After averaging 10.1 points per game as a freshman for a UNLV team that won 25 games, Katin Reinhardt was expected to come in and be one of the Trojans’ top offensive weapons. But outside of a couple of high-volume shooting nights, Reinhardt has struggled to maintain the same scoring average as his freshman season.

For the third time in four games, Reinhardt scored in single digits and for the 15th straight time (in 16 games this season), his field goal percentage finished below 50 percent. Reinhardt has been the Trojans’ best on-ball defender and has often harassed the opposition’s primary wing threat, but his offense has continued to be a struggle. Part of the issue is shot selection when Reinhardt drives into the lane, but he also has struggled to knock down outside shots despite having a sharpshooter reputation upon entering USC.

”He’s working hard on his shot selection and also his balance on his shots,” Andy Enfield said. “He had a couple of good looks tonight where he missed and a couple of off-balance shots that he missed. Yeah, we do need Katin to shoot a higher percentage. He is working hard at it, so we’re going to keep supporting him.”

Post-Game Coach Interview: Andy Enfield talks about the Trojans battling back and giving the ball to his true freshman point guard with the game on the line:

Key stat(s): 69; 8. In the first half, Stanford was on fire from the outside, knocking down 9-of-13 long balls, or 69 percent. The Cardinal got a lot of open looks, but even the contested shots were going down. Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Rosco Allen were a combined 9-for-11.

But as good as things were in the first half, the second half was more atrociously bad. Randle, Brown and Allen were the only Stanford players to attempt second half three pointers and they combined to make just one of their 12 long-distance attempts. And many of the shots were wide-open looks that just wouldn’t go down, allowing USC to come back.

79.2. USC shot a season-best 85 percent (17-for-20) from the free throw line Wednesday night. It followed that up by making 19-of-24 free throws against Stanford for 79.2 percent. That makes two games above 71 percent for the Trojans — the last two.

3. Jordan McLaughlin finished with three turnovers in his 29 minutes of action. The Trojans are now 2-5 when McLaughlin has three turnovers or more. It was also the third time McLaughlin has finished with more turnovers than assists this season. USC is 0-3 in those contests.

18. Rosco Allen gave the Trojans fits all night. The junior stretch forward from Budapest, Hungary (by way of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas) was able to routinely get free in the first half and knocked down all three 3-pointers he attempted when he did. Allen scored 13 points in the first half and finished with a career-high 18 points.

11. Nikola Jovanovic has now scored in double figures in 11 consecutive games after posting 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

50. Nikola Jovanovic shot below 50 percent in each of the first seven games this season. He has at or above 50 percent in all nine games since.

Quote(s) of the Night:

“It was a tough one. It’s probably going to be hard to sleep tonight. At the end of the day, we battled and competed. That’s all you can ask for.” — USC freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin

Where They Stand: The Trojans are now 9-7 on the season and 1-3 in conference play. They took care of business against Cal, but couldn’t finish off the comeback against Stanford. For the current three-game home stand to be a success, USC is going to have to knock off crosstown rival UCLA when the two teams match up on Wednesday at 6 p.m. PST. The Trojans have lost three straight to the Bruins.

Spotted: Kahlil Dukes, who missed the last game with the flu, was back in uniform and on the bench. He, along with walk-ons Chass Bryan, Devon Pflueger and Samer Dhillon did not play.

Also watching the game was former Cardinal power forward Dwight Powell, who was still in Los Angeles after playing five minutes in Dallas’ 120-100 loss to the Clippers. Powell scored eight points in his limited action on Saturday. He also got a little limited action on Sunday when he was featured on the kiss cam.

Shotgun Spratling has covered USC athletics since 2009. You can follow him on Twitter at @ShotgunSpr or email him at shotgunspratling@gmail.com.

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