This year, U.S. News and World Report ranked Princeton as the best university in the nation. USC finished 21st. But the Trojans trounced the Tigers in another much-discussed metric released by a national media company. USC ranked 10th in the Associated Press men’s college basketball preseason poll, the school’s best position in 43 years. Princeton received no votes.
Princeton proved Tuesday at the Galen Center that it outpaces USC in both pursuits. The Tigers toppled the shorthanded Trojans 103-93 in overtime and rendered USC’s once high hopes for this season ever more unlikely.
Only seven scholarship players appeared for the Trojans, who played without four members of their planned rotation. Guard Jonah Mathews wore a protective boot after rolling his ankle during the Trojans’ victory over UC Santa Barbara on Sunday, and forward Bennie Boatwright missed his second game because of a wart on his foot. He too wore a boot.
Sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton again sat out as a precaution while the FBI investigates allegations pertaining to suspended USC assistant Tony Bland. Fellow sophomore guard Derryck Thornton has not played this month because of a shoulder injury.
“You had a lot of points, rebounds, assists and defense sitting on the sidelines tonight,” coach Andy Enfield said. “But that’s not an excuse for why we lost.”
So, Jordan McLaughlin served as the primary ballhandler for 44 of the game’s 45 minutes. He logged 24 points and a team-high eight assists, while Chimezie Metu led the Trojans with 25 points. Elijah Stewart contributed 20. Four Princeton players produced at least 18 points, including Myles Stephens, who poured in 30.
The start augured the outcome. When Princeton took an early 10-3 lead with a three-pointer, Enfield called time out. The Trojans responded with three three-pointers to tie the score 12-12, but Princeton went on to lead by as many as seven. Fourteen minutes in, USC took its first lead, 25-23, on a McLaughlin layup. When the Tigers put back a missed three-pointer at the buzzer, USC carried a 36-33 lead into the half.
Soon, Princeton moved ahead by three, then four, then five, on consecutive three-pointers from San Juan Capistrano JSerra product Sebastian Much. In between the threes, USC forward Nick Rakocevic stumbled off the court because of an apparent ankle injury. When he was replaced, a breakaway stretched the Tigers lead to seven and forced another Enfield timeout, at which point Rakocevic reappeared. He ran gingerly thereafter.
A failed handoff led to another Princeton breakaway, and USC’s deficit soon became 11, the Tigers’ largest lead. After a timeout, a Stewart three-pointer tamped down that run, and the Trojans inched closer, the lead vacillating between five and eight.
Metu imposed his will in the key. With three minutes to play, Metu slammed home a dunk to bring the Trojans within 73-70. Princeton called for a timeout. Much drilled a three-pointer after it. Soon, he flipped in a runner, stretching the lead to six. A miss, a foul, and two converted free throws later, the lead was eight.
After Princeton made one of two late free throws, McLaughlin picked up the ball near midcourt and ran it into the key for a reverse layup. The lead was two. USC defended the ensuing inbounds play with alacrity, and Devin Cannady quickly threw the ball away.
With 11.4 seconds to play, the Trojans had the ball and a chance to tie it or win it. McLaughlin inbounded to Metu, received the ball back, and laid the ball in with eight seconds to play. A Princeton three-point attempt at the buzzer bounded off the rim, and the teams headed to overtime tied 86-86.
The Tigers found easy shots inside the lane to score 17 points in overtime to secure the win.
“They were driving pretty aggressively,” Metu said. “We just couldn’t stay in front of them.”
When: Friday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu
Update: The Trojans will begin the Diamond Head Classic against a team that advanced into the NIT’s second round last season.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura