Andy Enfield was desperate.
Nothing was working and the USC Trojans, as a whole, weren't either. Once again, they were flat. They weren't getting any stops, weren't knocking down shots and weren't able to get out in transition because they couldn't rebound. They had kept the game close because Colorado continually fumbled the ball away, but the Buffaloes were starting to pull away. A Wesley Gordon turnaround jumper put them up 60-45 with 8:59 remaining.
USC's head coach inserted Malik Martin into the game, hoping for a spark. USC scored, but Gordon responded with a driving layup, scoring over Martin with 8:19 to go to make it 62-48. Martin was fouled and sank two free throws and USC changed things up, going to a 2-3 zone defense despite Colorado having made 6-of-12 three pointers.
Enfield said he told his assistants, "Hey, we’ll try something different and if it works, it works."
On the first defensive possession, a Colorado miss bounced off Martin's fingertips to Jordan McLaughlin, who led a fast break and dropped a pass off to Martin, who slammed it home.
Suddenly there was life in the building and it built and built as USC went on an incredible 30-5 run after switching to the zone, turning what had been a 15-point deficit a few possessions prior into an 11-point lead in the final minute. The Trojans (19-7, 8-5) finished with a 79-72 victory at the Galen Center in about as dramatic a turnaround as could happen.
"Our man-to-man wasn't working," Enfield said in the post-game presser. "We just had to do something differently. We thought the zone…we didn't know if it would be effective, but it certainly was so give our players credit."
Martin finished with only those four points and played just five minutes, but Enfield and McLaughlin both credited him as being the reason USC won.
"Malik was just terrific," Enfield said. "I thought he was the key to the game. He helped us turned the game at that point. I told him on the bench at the end of the game, ‘You’re my MVP this game because what you did in there, even though it was five-six minutes, you just turned the whole game.’"
"It was a great call by coach going to the zone," McLaughlin said. "It was props to Malik Martin for being ready to come in the game and spark the energy. We got stops on defense. That’s what we want."
Colorado (19-8, 8-6) didn't make a field goal for over eight minutes. Only in the final 10 seconds did they finally get the ball in the basket and that was just window dressing for the final score as USC backed off and let the Buffaloes shoot.
Martin sparked the run and McLaughlin got it revving, scoring 11 consecutive points for USC at one point. He finished with a career-high 25 points while fellow point guard Julian Jacobs scored 17 points. The duo also combined for eight steals.
Josh Scott, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury, came off the bench to lead Colorado with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting. George King and Wesley Gordon both scored 13 points while Josh Fortune had 10 on 3-of-11 shooting. The Buffaloes dominated on the glass, winning the rebound battle, 37-21, but were killed by 20 turnovers.
Here's three takeaways from USC's comeback win over the Buffaloes on Wednesday night:
Point Guard Hydra
USC has been at its best this season when Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs are playing at a high level. The Trojans two-headed point guard gives other teams fits because of their abilty to get into the lane and create for themselves and their teammates. The duo may have produced their best combined game yet on Wednesday night.
McLaughlin scored a career-high 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 11 straight USC points during the Trojans' 30-5 stretch run. He added five assists, four rebounds and three steals. Jacobs scored 17 points, making six of his eight shots -- three of which were voracious dunks, including a fast break Dominique Wilkins-esque reverse. He also had five steals.
"They controlled the game down the stretch -- both of those guys -- with their penetration, their shot making and their defense."
A national writer recently listed them among his top five backcourt combinations. Are they the best duo in the country?
McLaughlin chuckled when asked. “You’ve got to ask somebody else that question.” Jacobs grinned.
"We’re just going to keep playing good basketball," he said. "We’ll let you guys decide.”
Defense Leads to Offense
While USC switching to a 2-3 zone defense was the spark, Dan Weber writes that it wasn't the stroke of genius for USC. Getting the Trojans to play any defense was the genius move because once they did, the offense quickly followed. READ MORE
Cold, Cold Colorado
Colorado pushed its lead to 15 points. Then, Wesley Gordon answered a USC three-point play with a layup on the other end. The Buffaloes had a comfortable 62-48 lead with 8:19 remaining. Every ball seemed to be going their way and they were getting easy and open looks.
But then Colorado's offense decided to make a quick trip out to its car. Even with it being winter in Boulder, it just needed to grab something, so the t-shirt and shorts were fine until it realized it had locked its keys inside. Suddenly, the Buffaloes were cold. They missed a 3-pointer and then another.
Locked outside, the Colorado offense banged on the door of the neighbor's door, but no one answered. Wesley Gordon missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity. Then he missed another! George King turned the ball over. Xavier Talton had a 3-pointer rim out. The temperatures were dropping. Josh Scott had a shot swatted and King traveled after catching the rejection. King gave it away once more and the Buffaloes lead was now gone.
The hypothermia began to set in. The Colorado offense shivered while its teeth chattered. Thomas Akyazili's three-point attempt clanked away. A couple of free throws from Scott made it seem like there was hope, but it was followed by a slight drizzle that turned into snowfall. Talton threw the ball straight to a USC defender, which turned into a dunk. Josh Fortune drove in and missed a layup in a swarm of people. Then he couldn't connect on a 3-pointer.
The Colorado offense was struggling to move its appendages. Frostbite was taking over. Dominique Collier missed a layup and then committed the final two of the Buffaloes' 20 turnovers. The icy cold frigidness had killed the Buffaloes and a final field goal with nine seconds left -- the first in eight minutes and 10 seconds -- couldn't revive them.
And on the tombstone it read, "Here lies the Colorado offense, who succumbed to the winter blue watching a 15-point lead turn into a seven-point loss."
The Trojans have another big Pac-12 matchup on Sunday when the Utah Utes (19-7, 8-5) come to the Galen Center for the only matchup between the two teams this season. The Utes are currently tied with USC in the rankings, but that will change after they play UCLA on Thursday. Utah features a potential NBA lottery pick in center Jakob Poetl and has been playing well recently, winning seven of its last nine after an inauspicious 1-3 start. Like most of the league, the Utes have struggled on the road this season, going 3-5 so far.
- USC shot 61 percent in the second half to finish at 48 percent despite being just 4-for-14 on 3-pointers.
- The Trojans are now 17-2 when outshooting their opponent after Colorado finished at 46.3 percent.
- Galen Center still hasn't seen a loss this year as USC improved to 15-0 at home. That sets the record for the most home wins to start a season in USC history.
- USC trailed 37-29 at halftime. It was the first time the Trojans have trailed at the break in the Galen Center this year.
- The Buffaloes were outscored 18-2 on points off turnovers in the second half.
- The 13 steals that USC forced were the most since Feb. 4, 2009.
- The Trojans got their first Pac-12 win ever over Colorado. They were 0-7 since the Buffs joined the conference.