You could sense it coming.
And then it did.
After a rebound went out of bounds off a USC Trojans defender, Providence inbounded the ball under its basket with three seconds remaining. Freshman Drew Edwards scanned the defense, looking for a weakness. He found one when Rodney Bullock flashed open on the opposite block. Edwards delivered the pass and Bullock put up a quick layup before Nikola Jovanovic could come across to defend, scoring the game-winning bucket with 1.5 seconds remaining to push the Friars to a 70-69 victory that ends the Trojans' season.
Bullock recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in a game that was back and forth throughout. His late layup was the 13th and final lead change in a game that featured eight players in double figures -- four from each team. Big East leading scorer Ben Bentil led Providence with 19 points and nine rebounds, but only made seven of his 21 attempts.
USC also corralled future first round draft pick Kris Dunn, holding him to 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Jordan McLaughlin may have bested Dunn with his play, scoring 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting with five rebounds, five assists and four steals, but he did have four of the Trojans' 12 turnovers.
USC led almost every statistical category except for those related to free throw shooting and turnovers as Dunn and the Friars turned the ball over only six times as a team. On the charity stripe, Providence was 11-for-14 while the Trojans were just 7-for-13 for the game and struggled down the stretch.
Here's three takeaways from USC's heartbreaking last-second defeat to Providence Thursday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.:
Starting from the first possession, USC came out in a 2-3 zone defense with the intent on limiting Ben Bentil from inside touches and forcing the Friars' outside shooters to knock down shots. It worked well as Providence was willing to settle for decent looks on three-point attempts rather than attacking the gaps and trying to constantly get into the middle of the zone.
The Trojans watched as three after three clanked off the iron. The Friars shot 9-for-24 from deep -- a respectable 37.5 percent that only blossomed late in the game when they made four of their final five after being at 26.3 percent prior.
USC clogged up the middle of the lane, taking away the driving lanes for both Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn and it affected both players. They were content to settle for mid-range jumpers rather than consistently attacking the rim. Bentil showed a nice touch on a couple of baseline jumpers, but he was just 7-for-21 from the field, including 1-for-6 on three-point attempts.
What Exactly Do You Mean by Free?
In college, you probably could have blindfolded Andy Enfield and he still would have drained free throws. He set the NCAA record for career free throw percentage during his time at Johns Hopkins. But now Enfield would just like to have that blindfold every time his team steps up to the free throw line. An issue all year, USC's free throw woes came back to bite them once again in the NCAA tournament.
After shooting 67.8 percent during the season, USC was 7-for-13 from the charity stripe against Providence. But the bigger issue was when some of those misses came. With just under a minute remaining, Bennie Boatwright slipped baseline and went up for a dunk. He was fouled, but probably should have finished off the slam. He then missed the first and made the second free throw. The shot put USC up one.
A couple of misses by each team ended with Elijah Stewart being fouled under the basket with 27 seconds remaining. He had an opportunity to build on the Trojans lead, but instead his free throw rimmed out. Stewart redeemed himself with a block on the other end to get USC the ball back. Again, the Trojans had an opportunity to go up by three, but this time it was Julian Jacobs' attempt with 12 seconds remaining that hit the rim multiple times before bouncing out, setting up Providence's last possession.
Take Care of the Ball
USC led nearly every statistical category throughout the game and for large stretches, Kris Dunn had to sit with foul trouble. Yet, the Trojans only had a one-point lead at halftime and had a one-point deficit when it was all said and done.. That's because one of the stats they trailed was turnover margin where they were -6. Providence entered the game with one of the top turnover margins in the country at +3.1. It only built on that as it turned the ball over just six times and forced 12 turnovers from USC, including seven in the first half.
The Trojans gave away possession seven times in the first half. And "gave away" is an apt description considering several of the turnovers came on passes with no true intended target. Julian Jacobs and Elijah Stewart both found the front row with passes. Most disconcerting about the turnovers was that it was veteran point guard and leader Julian Jacobs that had three of the mistakes. He looked to be a little too amped up early and was trying to do too much early. Late in the half, Andy Enfield chose to sit Jacobs and use Malik Marquetti for an extended period.
But late in the game, it was both Jacobs and Jordan McLaughlin -- the Trojans' two point guards that carried them all season -- that both had blunders. McLaughlin got a steal and had a potential breakaway to Jacobs, but his pass never found the mark, falling 15-20 feet short of the streaking Jacobs and instead fell into the arms of Dunn, who attacked the basket and found Bentil for a dunk and a four-point swing. McLaughlin also missed a contested layup on a breakaway attempt. Like his compatriot, Jacobs had a late turnover and missed an open basket, clanking the first shot in a bonus situation with 12 seconds remaining. Jacobs finished with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting (including three dunks), four rebounds and three assists, but turned the ball over five times.
USC's final possessions of the game:
- Boatwright missed dunk on foul and making one of two free throws
- missed layup
- missed front end of 1-and-1 free throw situation
- missed front end of 1-and-1 free throw situation
- missed three-quarters court desperation heave.
The Friars advance to face North Carolina. The Tar Heels dominated Florida Gulf Coast in the second half, turning a 41-40 halftime lead into an 83-67 victory. North Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, is now 29-6 on the season and will have a de facto home crowd on Saturday playing in Raleigh. USC's season concludes with a 21-13 record that saw the Trojans show tremendous flashes of what could be in the next few years.
There's no doubt USC will be working hard on free throws in the offseason and should everyone return other than senior Strahinja Gavrilovic, the Trojans could very well be considered a preseason contender for the Pac-12 title. The Trojans will have the make the scholarship numbers works as they are currently slated to be one over the limit, meaning someone on the current roster or one of the potential incoming players won't be with the team in the fall.