3-Pointer: Trojans blow it at Arizona State

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Three takeaways from USC basketball's 83-82 loss at Arizona State -- a game that may ultimately become an NCAA tournament deal breaker.

With 3:55 left in the game, Bennie Boatwright passed inside to Chimezie Metu for a dunk to put USC back up by double digits.

It was the last good pass made by Boatwright and the last field goal by the Trojans.

Arizona State ended the game on a 12-1 run with Tra Holder making a pair of free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining to beat USC, 83-82, Sunday evening at Wells Fargo Arena. 

After Metu's basket, the Trojans forgot how to make layups, hit free throws, dribble and even inbound the basketball. The Trojans blew it, giving away the game with mistakes...and it was USC's four returners committing the infractions.

Jordan McLaughlin missed a right-handed layup and lost his dribble at the top of the key leading to a jump ball and a desperation three-point attempt to beat the buzzer. Elijah Stewart missed a layup in the paint and bricked the front end of a one-and-one bonus situation. Metu also missed a free throw.

But Boatwright's mistakes loomed the largest. He passed the ball directly into the hands of a defender near half court, which quickly turned into a Sun Devils three pointer. He then threw the ball to no one in particular on an inbounds pass with less than 15 seconds remaining. ASU picked the ball up near midcourt and gave it to Tra Holder, who drove and was fouled by Boatwright. 

"Down the stretch I didn't take care of the ball, so this one is on me," Boatwright said. "I'm a captain, so I'm going to learn from it and I'm going to get better."

The Trojans' leading scorer had an opportunity to redeem himself, but after making five of his first seven 3-pointers, Boatwright's eighth attempt -- a good look from the top of the key -- clanked off the back of the rim and into a Sun Devils' hands as the buzzer sounded.

A game USC couldn't afford to lose in regards to feeling secure about receiving an NCAA tournament bid, it did.

Boatwright finished with 22 points -- his third straight 20+ point performance -- making 8 of his 12 field goal attempts, but it will be the end-of-game mistakes that will be remembered. While Boatwright faltered, Arizona State's leading scorer on the night, Kodi Justice, excelled down the stretch. Justice, who also had 22 points, had a steal, assist, two rebounds and hit a clutch three-pointer with a defender in his face to make it a one-point game and force USC to inbound the ball.

Tra Holder and Obinna Oleka added 18 points each for the Sun Devils while Metu recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points (on 5 of 7 shooting) and 13 rebounds (tying his career high).

Similar to the Arizona game, USC shot an outstanding 55.4 percent, but couldn't overcome Arizona State's three point shooting (13 for 28) or the 10 additional field goal shots that the Sun Devils took more than USC thanks to 12 offensive rebounds and the Trojans' 12 turnovers.

Here's three takeaways from USC's 83-82 loss to the Sun Devils Sunday night:

Inbound Burden

USC has struggled with inbounding the ball at times this year, including in the first matchup against Arizona State. The return of Bennie Boatwright was supposed to alleviate that concern since the 6-foot-10 forward can see the court better and has guard skills, including the passing portion of that skill set. However, inbounding the ball proved to be too tough a task once again for the Trojans on Sunday.

After Kodi Justice hit a three-pointer to cut USC's lead to one, the Trojans called a timeout and drew up the play they wanted. But they failed to execute the inbounding portion of the play.

Andy Enfield said USC didn't get their first or second option on the inbounds, which left Boatwright trying to get the ball to point guard Jordan McLaughlin. Unfortunately, McLaughlin zigged when Boatwright thought he was going to zag.

"I just saw everybody was guarded and I counted four in my head," Boatwright said alluding to the potential of a five-second violation being called. "Threw it. I thought he was going to cut back. I just threw it to him, tried to lead him to it, but he cut back the other way."

It is too late in the season for USC to be having inbound issues. The Trojans have overcomplicated the process. They couldn't even follow what they are taught, according to Elijah Stewart.

"We're always told if you don't have a good pass, just take the five seconds, regroup the defense and just try to get another stop."

Finish Him!

When you have a sub .500 team down by 10 points with less than four minutes to go, you have to seal the deal. The inbounds pass was just the final blunder of the stretch run. As Andy Enfield later said, that play shouldn't have determined the game. He then proceeded to rattle off all USC's mistakes.

"We missed open shots. We turned the ball over at half court. We just threw it to the other team. We missed the front end of a one-and-one. We missed a right-hand layup and then we missed another free throw. We have to do a better job. I'll take the blame for that.  

"We have to do a better job of finishing games and having confidence to step up to that foul line and take care of the ball."

A team like Sun Devils are dangerous because they haven't found a shot they don't like yet and they can make a quick run because of their shot makers. However, USC was scoring at will for the duration of the game. Arizona State doesn't play any defense. It's why the Trojans had two right-handed layup attempts in the final minutes and an open three-pointer at the end of the game.

Up by 10, it's fine if ASU makes a couple shots...as long as you make your own shots on the other end, which proved to be what USC couldn't do in the final 3:55.

Welcome to the Bubble

USC's resume for consideration as an at-large team in the NCAA tournament doesn't pop. The Trojans have RPI top 50 wins over SMU and UCLA, but both came at home to go along with five combined losses to Oregon, Arizona and the Bruins. USC went undefeated in the non-conference schedule, racking up 14 wins, but only three of those were in the top 100 RPI -- SMU, BYU and TAMU (Texas A&M).

Against top 100 teams, USC is 5-7. But what was most appealing about their resume was that the Trojans had no "bad losses." All their losses had been to top 100 teams. Now they've lost to a 14-16 Arizona State team that is ranked at No. 133 in the RPI. 

USC's resume is beginning to look eerily similar to the faux-USC, South Carolina, last year. The Gamecocks went undefeated in the non-conference and then lost five of their last eight games before Selection Sunday and were left out of the NCAA tournament despite a 24-8 record and a winning record (11-7) in the SEC. If the Trojans win both games this week at home against the Washington schools -- which they should -- and then lose in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, they would have lost five of their last eight games just like South Carolina.

The Trojans' top 50 wins are more impressive than anything that the Gamecocks did last year, but South Carolina did have a win at then-No. 8 Texas A&M, so if USC follows that hypothetical it very well could be disappointed two weeks from today.

"We have 21 wins and we have to go and win some games," Enfield said. "Do I think we're in right now? No. We have to win."

Up Next

USC is now officially on the NCAA tournament bubble. If the Trojans want to finish on the good side of it, they can't have another slip up. That includes this week against Washington State and Washington, who are both in the bottom quarter of the Pac-12. The Cougars come to Galen Center to play USC on Wednesday at 7 p.m. PST. The game will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.

Highlights

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