LOS ANGELES, CA- For the USC men’s basketball team, their home game against Arizona State came down to the final seconds of the contest. USC held possession and trailed the Sun Devils by three points with under 20 seconds left in their Pac-12 Conference game played at the Galen Center on Saturday, Jan. 26.
With just over 11 ticks left in the game, USC forward Bennie Boatwright curled off a screen, rose from the top of the key and nailed a game-winning 3-pointer for the Trojans. Luguentz Dort missed a deep three-point shot from the right wing as the buzzer sounded and USC secured a 69-67 nail-biting victory.
“Derryck (Thornton) did a great job of bringing his man down, Jonah (Matthews) set me a good screen and I got a good look and knocked it down,” Boatwright said.
Boatwright scored 17 points, shooting 2-of-3 from the 3-point line. Shaqquan Aaron posted 13 points for the Trojans and Rakocevic contributed 15 with nine rebounds. Jonah Mathews chipped in 11 points for the victors.
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USC coach Andy Enfield was impressed with Aaron’s play throughout the game.
“Shaqquan played a great game. He was in all the right spots,” Enfield said.
Romello White led Arizona State in scoring, finishing the game with 11 points. Remy Martin, Zylan Cheatham, and Kimani Lawrence each scored 10 points for the Sun Devils. Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley was effusive in his praise over Boatwright and the play he made at the game’s most critical moment.
“Credit to (Boatwright), he’s one of the better players in the league, and in a big spot he made a big shot,” Hurley said.
Martin failed to convert from the perimeter. Mathews snatched a board but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Arizona State rebounded Mathews’ second miss and called a timeout to give themselves one more shot to pull off the win with .8 seconds left.
“Everyone made some big plays down the stretch,” Enfield said. “It was a great team win, very important in the Pac-12 race.”
Martin drained two consecutive 3-pointers, as Arizona State claimed a 65-62 lead with 3:38 remaining. Dort charged towards the basket and drew a blocking foul on Rakocevic, his fifth of the game. After Dort drained both foul shots, the Sun Devils led 67-66.
Aaron missed and Dort traveled, giving USC possession with 53.9 seconds left. With a chance to extend the Sun Devils’ lead to four, Cheatham missed a foul shot in the bonus. USC improves to 7-2 over their last nine games, 12-8 overall and 5-2 in Pac-12 competition. Arizona State falls to 14-6 overall and 4-3 in the conference, splitting their Southern California road trip with an 84-73 win over UCLA.
USC kept Arizona State under 31 percent from the field, forced 15 turnovers and made nine steals against the Sun Devils.
Enfield said, “I was just really excited about how (the players) battled. To see that maturity and that heart they showed.”
USC opened second half action on a 17-6 run. Thornton drove and dropped a pass to Rakocevic who scored, forcing an Arizona State timeout. A Brooks 3-pointer and Rakocevic basket gave the Trojans a 52-44 lead, nearly eight minutes into the second period. Rakocevic replaced Boatwright, as he picked up his fourth foul with 12 minutes left.
“We had to adjust,” Boatwright said. “Guys were ready to play and step up, whether we’re on or off the court.”
Cheatham dunked a Martin miss and then scored on a reverse layup after USC guard Elijah Weaver turned the ball over. USC held a narrow 60-57 lead with inside eight minutes to play.
Thornton drove to the rim, scored and stole the ball from Rob Edwards quickly after. Edwards fouled Thornton at the basket, as the USC guard completed an old fashion 3-point play for his fifth consecutive point. Kevin Porter Jr. drew an offensive foul after a White bucket, Arizona State leading 29-27 with 3:12 remaining in the first half.
Mathews dribbled towards midcourt, bumping into Thornton and losing possession. Martin took advantage, scoring in transition off the steal. Arizona State ended the first half with a 38-35 advantage, behind 10 points from Lawrence. Aaron and Boatwright each scored 11 in the first period for USC.
Arizona State outgained USC in rebounding (49-35), free throw percentage (88-61.1) and points off the bench (21-5).
“ASU really crashed the boards and our bigs had foul trouble,” Enfield said.
The Sun Devils leave California with three straight home games impending. Arizona, Washington State, and Washington all hit Tempe for Arizona State’s next slate of Pac-12 opponents.
Perhaps USC’s biggest road test of the season awaits next, as the Trojans face Pac-12 leading Washington (16-4 overall, 7-0 Pac-12) in Seattle.
“We have a lot of momentum,” Boatwright said. “We’ll be ready to go to Washington.”