The Galen Center crowd was ready to erupt, but it would never reach the apex it so desired. The USC Trojans had a chance to snap their long losing streak to Oregon and were on a 7-0 run to cut the Ducks lead to three points with 3:28 remaining. Oregon's Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate, Dillon Brooks, had just fouled out.
On the other end, De'Anthony Melton swatted away a Dylan Ennis shot attempt and the ball appeared to go off the fingertips of Chris Boucher, but instead Oregon got the ball back with four seconds on the shot clock. USC trapped Jordan Bell in the short corner and Bell passed the ball out to Tyler Dorsey. Instead of attacking Dorsey with a strong closeout, Melton was caught between two Ducks' shooters and hesitated. With the shot clock winding down, Dorsey rose up and fired a deep three-point shot that strummed through.
"That was a mistake on De'Anthony Melton's part," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. " They threw the ball out with two seconds on the shot clock and he didn't challenge [Dorsey's] shot. He probably could have stolen the pass, but he should have definitely been all over [Dorsey]. He gave [Dorsey] basically an uncontested three."
Elijah Stewart answered on the other end with a three that drew some cheers, but the Trojans never let the home crowd crescendo to a climax. Oregon scored the next seven points, including an ill-advised three-point attempt in transition that Dorsey swished through for a dagger. The Ducks ended the game on a 10-2 run to secure an 81-70 win -- their 14th straight against USC, dating back to 2009 before Dana Altman took over in Eugene.
"You've got to make winning plays in the last three, four minutes," Enfield said. "They made the plays tonight. We've made them most of the time all year long, but tonight we couldn't."
Despite fouling out, Brooks led all scorers with 21 points on 8 of 14 shooting. Dorsey finished with 19 points with four 3-pointers -- all in the second half. Oregon (22-4, 11-2) also got 12 points each from Dylan Ennis and Bell. Bell also had 14 rebounds with seven on the offensive end.
Chimezie Metu led USC (21-5, 8-5) with 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting. Bennie Boatwright and Stewart both scored 15 points, but combined to shoot 3 for 15 on three-point attempts. Boatwright was just 3 for 15 from the floor and missed eight of his nine 3-pointers. As a team, the Trojans were just 6 for 27 from deep.
"It's hard to beat a team like this if you don't play and shoot the ball better than what we did tonight," Enfield said.
For the game, USC was just 32.5 percent from the field while Oregon hit 40.6 percent. The Trojans fell to 4-4 when they are outshot by their opponent and 4-4 when shooting less than 40 percent. USC also turned the ball over 16 times and dropped their season record to 5-4 when turning the ball over more than their opponent.
Here's three takeaways from USC's 81-70 loss to the Ducks Saturday night:
USC has had 15 or more turnovers three times this season and two of those games have come against Oregon. The Trojans starting guards -- Jordan McLaughlin, De'Anthony Melton and Elijah Stewart -- combined for 13 of USC's 16 giveaways. Oregon scored 23 points off USC turnovers.
"You've got to protect the ball," Stewart said. "We had too many turnovers. We had a lot of turnovers on our baseline out-of-bounds plays and that really just helped them pull away toward the end."
But it wasn't necessarily the amount of turnovers as it was the fashion. Three times USC threw the ball away on baseline inbounds passes. Oregon scored fast break buckets immediately on two of the turnovers and added two free throws after the final one for six points total off of Trojan inbounding mistakes.
"When they watch the film, they'll see the little things make a big difference -- the extra possessions," Enfield said. "We turned the ball over a couple more times and when you miss shots, you have to try to steal possessions."
Instead USC gave away possession and points.
With Oregon in the bonus in the final six minutes, Dillon Brooks missed the front end and USC grabbed the rebound, but Melton had committed a lane violation stepping in early. Brooks got another opportunity and sank both the first and the bonus free throw.
The most dramatic displays of sloppiness may have been a deciding factor in the game because they killed the moment and immediately turned into points the other way. USC missed three dunks. Two of those were easy slams in transition that the Trojans clanked off the rim. Both times Oregon hit a three-pointer on the other end -- a 10-point swing. USC lost by 11.
USC sophomore forward Chimezie Metu has shown he can get the ball in the post, use a dream shake shoulder fake and knock down a turnaround jumper. He can bang an 18-footer when he faces up to the basket. He can throw down a slam dunk over premier post defenders. He can handle the ball and bring it up the court after snagging a defensive rebound. He has showcased an NBA skill set, but he has also showcased that he might not quite be ready for the NBA.
There are games where he has struggled this season, including the first matchup with Oregon earlier this year when he went 1 for 12 from the field. But off games happen. The more concerting issue has been bouts of immaturity he has displayed.
He got frustrated in the UC Santa Barbara game earlier this year and didn't want to talk to his teammates. He refused their celebratory high-fives after he was subbed out. The coaching staff told him to grow up.
He and Oregon State players had to be separated in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms after words were exchanged after Thursday's 26-point blowout victory. Then on Saturday, Metu was involved in two incidents. The one everyone saw came in the final minute when USC was trying to foul to stop the clock. Instead of reaching in for a foul, Metu took a big downward swing slamming Payton Pritchard across the back, leaving a large red welt.
After a review, a flagrant foul was assessed and it became a topic after the game on the Pac-12 Networks.
"That was just a dumb play," former USC head coach Kevin O'Neill said on the Pac-12 Sports Report. "I always tell players you're building a resume to go to the next level. On one side of it, the GM puts good stuff, the other side he puts bad stuff and he moves it back and forth. That's not a good look for Metu."
But that wasn't Metu's only transgression. One that didn't garner as much attention was Metu's Grayson Allen impersonation. Oregon's Chris Boucher fell for a Bennie Boatwright pump fake in the left corner, right in front of USC's bench. Boucher went flying by Boatwright and into the USC bench. Metu, who was sitting on the bench, scoots out of Boucher's way initially, but then stuck his foot out in front of Boucher as the Oregon forward turned to return to the play.
Boucher only slightly stumbled and there was a foul called on Boatwright's drive to the basket, so the action didn't really matter, but the thought behind the action was the problem. Metu finished the game with a team-high 16 points, including the monster dunk seen at the top. He has a very bright future, both at USC and the next level whenever he chooses to leave, but he needs to heed the coaching staff's instruction from the UC Santa Barbara game earlier in the year.
Where Have You Gone, J-Mac?
For the first time this season and only the third time in his career, USC junior captain Jordan McLaughlin is on a stretch of three or more games of single-digit scoring. He scored just six points on 2 of 7 shooting against Oregon. He even clanked an open fast break dunk in the early minutes. As the point guard, McLaughlin can still have a productive game even when he doesn't score, but he had a season-high five turnovers, finishing with more turnovers than assists for the first time since the season opener.
Andy Enfield has said that players are going to have off nights, but McLaughlin's struggles have extended beyond just one or two games. He led USC to an undefeated 13-0 non-conference record, shooting 51.9 percent from the field and scoring 14.7 points. He averaged 5.2 assists per game with 24 total turnovers.
In the 13 Pac-12 games, McLaughlin now has 37 turnovers and he is shooting just 37.7 percent. He is averaging 11.1 points and 5.0 assists. The struggles really began after the California game when McLaughlin scored 20 points, but missed five of his eight free throws and the potential game-winning shot of a one-point loss. In his last nine games, USC's on-court leader has scored double figures in just four times and is averaging 8.8 points while shooting 35.4 percent
McLaughlin has been the Trojans' go-to player for three years and it is very unusual to see him struggle for a prolonged period. For USC to go on the road and upset UCLA and/or Arizona in the next two games, the Trojans need McLaughlin to snap out of his slump.
USC has a week to prepare for crosstown rival UCLA. The Trojans beat then-No. 8 UCLA, 84-76, in the first matchup last month, but the Bruins are coming off a big come-from-behind win over Oregon to get their mojo back and should blowout Oregon State on Sunday. USC has won the last four matchups, but UCLA will be pumped up to end that streak and will be playing in front of the Pauley Pavilion faithful where Lonzo Ball (15.1 pts, 7.6 asts, 6.0 rebs per game) and TJ Leaf (16.7 pts, 8.8 rebs) and the Bruins are at their best.
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