3-Pointer: USC gets closer-than-necessary win over ASU

Three takeaways from USC basketball's getting back to .500 in the Pac-12 with an 82-79 win over Arizona State at the Galen Center Sunday night.

Arizona State shut off Jordan McLaughlin from getting a running start.

The Sun Devils had seen McLaughlin hoist a shot from a step beyond the half-court stripe before halftime against California after getting some forward momentum as he caught the inbounds pass. With USC having 3.5 seconds, Arizona State forced McLaughlin to catch the ball going in the wrong direction. Torian Graham cut off the middle of the court forcing McLaughlin up the sideline. 

McLaughlin took what he was given, dribbled one step beyond half court on the right side and pulled up, firing a heave that banked in off the glass as the buzzer sounded the end of the half.

The half-court buzzer beater proved to be the deciding margin as USC beat the Sun Devils, 82-79, Sunday night at the Galen Center. Arizona State (9-11, 2-5) pushed the Trojans with the last surge in a battle of runs, ending the game on a 12-1 flurry, only to run out of time as Shannon Evans II's rainbow prayer from the left corner barely grazed the side of the backboard as time expired.

McLaughlin finished with 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting and dished out eight assists. De'Anthony Melton also had eight assists to set a new career high. Melton's fellow freshmen, Jonah Mathews and Nick Rakocevic, also both played well. Mathews had 14 points on 50 percent shooting and had three steals. Rakocevic fell just shy of collegiate personal bests with 11 points and eight rebounds.

But the star of the game was USC junior guard Elijah Stewart, who knocked down seven 3-pointers. Stewart came one point shy of his career high 30 points set earlier this season against Wyoming. He made 11 of his 19 shots and added four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block.

As a team, USC shot 51.6 percent from the field and made a season-high 14 three-pointers, making 51.9 percent. Defensively, the Trojans forced 15 turnovers, which led to 24 points off turnovers. They also had 12 fast break points.

USC needed every point it could get to hold off Arizona State's potent offensive attack. The Sun Devils' five starters all scored in double figures led by Graham's 24 points, but he struggled from the outside, making just one of his six 3-pointers.  

Obinna Oleka had 17 points (6-10 FG) and 14 rebounds while Tra Holder and Evans both went 5 for 12 and scored 14 points. Kodi Justice added 10.

Here's three takeaways from USC's 82-79 win over the Sun Devils Sunday evening:

Game of Runs

After USC took a 9-8 lead before the first media timeout, the Sun Devils were never able to catch up. But that doesn't mean they weren't in the game. USC may have led for nearly 37 minutes, but the Trojans and Sun Devils battled back and forth throughout the game. 

Both teams feature offenses that can be explosive at times and have defensive lapses at times (most of the time for Arizona State). That led to a game of runs. Every time it seemed USC was ready to pull away for a decisive victory, the Sun Devils countered with a spree of points. The game featured seven significant runs ranging from seven- to 13-point swings. The difference in the game was USC had four such runs to Arizona State's three.

The Trojans used a 9-0 run in the middle of the first half to open up its first double-digit lead only to have the Devils go on a 16-5 run to trim that back to a single point. An 8-1 run late in the half and a 10-2 run that began with Jordan McLaughlin's buzzer beater gave USC some breathing room early in the second half, pushing the lead by to 12.

With the help of a 9-0 run, Arizona State got the lead back down to one, but again couldn't get over the hump to take the lead. USC responded with an 18-5 turn that gave the Trojans a 14-point lead with 3:13 remaining. They didn't make another field goal. 

The Sun Devils finished the game on a 12-1 run, but couldn't missed their final three shots in the last 15 seconds, allowing USC to escape with the win.

"It's a game of runs, so teams go up, we go up, they go up," guard Jonah Mathews said. "We just have to keep on playing the way we play and I think that as time goes on that will be consistent, but it's the Pac-12, anybody can beat you on a given night."

End-of-Game Execution

How were the Sun Devils able to make a run in the final three minutes? By exploiting USC's mistakes in end-of-game execution. USC's last six possessions in the final three minutes:

  • De'Anthony Melton missed three-pointer.
  • Chimezie Metu makes one of two free throws.
  • Chimezie Metu turnover.
  • Jonah Mathews turnover.
  • Jordan McLaughlin missed layup.
  • Jonah Mathews turnover.

All three of USC's turnovers took place in the backcourt. Freshman Jonah Mathews, who earned his first career start, struggled inbounding the ball and getting it to point guards Jordan McLaughlin or De'Anthony Melton. The Trojans couldn't move the ball up the court against a 1-2-2 full-court trap in the final minutes and twice in the second half were called for five-second calls on inbounds plays.

"Getting the ball in was troublesome for us because it was all clogged up and you couldn't really throw the ball anywhere," Mathews said.

USC head coach Andy Enfield took the blame for the end-of-game execution errors.

"Jonah was inbounding the ball, just wasn't used to that position, so I take the blame for that," Enfield said. "Just a little nervousness and inexperience. When you have timeouts, all you have to do is call timeout, but that's a learning experience. It's nice to learn when you win.

"Sometimes you just have to learn from the mistakes and focus on what [the young players] did great tonight. They played extremely hard and very well. Obviously, down the stretch we gave them a few extra possessions we should not have, but we did enough to come away with a big Pac-12 win."

Sharing the Ball

USC had been in a team shooting slump since opening Pac-12 play, but that finally seemed to acquiesce in the second half of the Arizona game on Thursday. On Sunday, the Trojans carried that over and shot the best they have in a month, making 51.6 percent of their field goal attempts and knocking down a season-high 14 three-pointers. Elijah Stewart made half of those -- tying a career high.

Finally, USC made its open looks.

"It's nice to see players step up and make shots because we all know they're good shooters," Andy Enfield said. "That's why it was frustrating for our team and the players themselves to miss wide open shots. Tonight, we made some of those and it helped us win the game.

"You can't shoot terribly every game for the entire season. Eventually, the law of averages have to work out. We were last in the league in field goal percent and our good shooters just weren't making open shots. It was nice to see our team make 14 threes."

Though it was the first time the Trojans made their shots, they got more open looks against Arizona State because of how well the team moved the basketball. The ball didn't get stuck in one player's hands on isolations that turned into contested shots. Instead, USC drove the basketball, drew the help defense and found open teammates.

The Sun Devils sent a double team nearly every time the ball went into Chimezie Metu. Though he finished with only seven points, Metu, at times, did a really nice job of recognizing the defense and kicking the ball out or even finding teammates across the court for open shots. 

In total, USC assisted on 22 on their 33 field goals -- its third highest assist-to-field goal ratio this season and its second most assist total. Jordan McLaughlin and De'Anthony Melton combined for 16 assists to five turnovers. McLaughlin's eight assists moved him into fifth all-time on USC's career assists list. 

Up Next

USC finally started hitting some shots. It will need that to carry over against the explosive offense of crosstown rival UCLA. The Bruins (19-2) will come to the Galen Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. PST, FS1) with a top five ranking despite losing at home for the first time in their last outing. Arizona exploited some defensive weaknesses in a 96-86 win Saturday evening and the Trojans will have to do the same to have a chance facing an offense that is second in the nation averaging 93 points per game and has scored at least 74 points in each contest. UCLA leads the country in field goal percentage, total assists and assist-to-turnover ratio and are in the top five in three-point shooting and three-point makes.

Highlights

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