If USC head coach Andy Enfield needs a pitch for recruits, he can just point to game after game in the Trojans’ current nine-game losing streak and tell the potential recruit that they are just one player away from winning a number of games. That player is a closer.
Once again, USC basketball rallied from a double-digit deficit only to be unable to finish down the stretch. This time it was Kahlil Dukes missing a potential game-tying three-point shot with less than 30 seconds remaining as the Trojans lost 80-75 to Oregon Wednesday night at the Galen Center to fall to 1-11 in Pac-12 play.
“It hurts just to keep coming close and failing to win games,” USC redshirt sophomore captain Darion Clark said. “We have to keep fighting, keep playing and understand it’s a process. It’s not like we’re going out there and laying down and losing games. We’re fighting. Tonight, we just had a slow start.”
The Trojans (9-15) didn't just lose another game. They also lost their star point guard Jordan McLaughlin. He left the game clutching his left shoulder, which was surgically repaired during the offseason, midway through the second half and went directly to the locker room. He never returned to the bench. After the game, he told reporters his shoulder popped out and that he would have an MRI on Thursday.
Without McLaughlin, the seldom used duo of Dukes and junior walk-on Chass Bryan sparked USC in the final 5:30 as USC trimmed a double-digit lead down to one possession with a minute to go. Bryan stopped the unstoppable Joseph Young while Dukes played his role as a shooter.
Young scored 26 points, but didn’t have a field goal in the final 5:30 with Bryan draped all over him. Young also had four of his six turnovers during the stretch and those were all because of the constant pestering of Bryan, who was right on Young’s hip every time he touched the ball.
To get the late rally started, Dukes stepped in and knocked down a 3-pointer and a midrange jumper to go along with a first half deep ball to give him a season-high eight points on the night. He shot six times, making two of his four long-distance shot, after having taken only seven shots in the first 23 games of the season.
“He’s put in to shoot the ball. That’s what he does. He’s one of our best shooters,” said sophomore captain Julian Jacobs, who had been screaming at Dukes to shoot the ball in the first half. “When he’s not looking to shoot, there isn’t many incentives to play him. He just has to stay aggressive.”
With McLaughlin's driving ability lost, Jacobs was the go-to guy for the Trojans as they tried to claw back into the game throughout the second half, particularly in the final run. He scored USC’s final six points and assisted on the three field goals prior. In total, Jacobs had one of his most complete games as a Trojan, setting a career-high with 18 points and tying a season high with six assists.
But that was all necessary because of another terrible start from the Trojans. A lethargic first half left the Trojans trailing Oregon (18-7, 8-4) by eight points at the break. The Trojans shot just 33 percent in the first 20 minutes, but that was a significant improvement after they missed 10 of their first 11 shots.
“We got off to a slow start tonight because we missed six or seven layups from 2-3 feet,” Enfield said. “I thought it deflated our guys. They lost a little confidence in themselves because we missed so many easy shots.”
USC fell behind 15-4 before most of the late-arriving crowd had even fully settled in their seats. It wasn’t until Enfield burned his third timeout with 8:12 remaining in the first half and the Trojans already down 25-11 that there finally seemed to be signs of life from the cardinal and gold.
In the second half, the Trojans, led by Jacobs, pushed the tempo much more frequently. That created early results as a 10-2 run tied the game, 39-39. However, that’s when Young reasserted himself. He went on his own 7-0 run to give the Ducks back the lead and a little breathing room.
“Joseph Young, to me, is one of the best offensive players in the United States,” Enfield said. “He shoots at a high level. He puts it on the floor at a high level. He passes at a high level. He’s very, very fast and quick. He is really, really good.”
Oregon’s undersized, but athletic forwards Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook also gave the Trojans plenty of troubles. Their ability to drive the basketball is something that USC’s forwards do not match up well against and it showed in Oregon’s shooting percentage. Brooks (7-of-9) and Cook (5-of-7) finished with 15 points each while the Ducks as a team shot 57.6 percent from the field, including 66.7 percent in the second half.
“They make one-on-one individual plays and they’re really good at it,” Enfield said. “A lot of our defensive breakdowns were due to their offensive skillsets.”
Clark finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in his most productive game for USC in quite some time. Leading scorer Nikola Jovanovic had 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbed five rebounds.
“Five of their last six losses with the exception of Utah have all gone down like this,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said of USC. “They’re going to get over the hump. I’m just glad they didn’t get over the hump against us.”
The Trojans will hope that Saturday can be hump day when they take on Oregon State at 2:00 p.m. PST. The Beavers (16-8, 7-5) are undefeated at home, but are now just 2-6 on the road after losing to UCLA Wednesday. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
Here’s USC head coach Andy Enfield talking about the loss in the post-game news conference: