As the Stanford players piled on top of Daejon Davis in celebration, students briefly rushing onto the court before being shooed away, USC's Chimezie Metu held his hands on his head in disbelief.
Trojans guard Jordan McLaughlin, who had looked like the hero only moments earlier, walked toward the other end of the court, briefly glancing over his shoulder, before sitting down and holding his hands on his knees. He contemplated Davis' shot at the buzzer from about five feet beyond halfcourt and longed for one thing.
"I was just hoping," McLaughlin said, "he didn't get it off in time."
He did. Referees confirmed as much after checking a replay monitor, one official validating the Trojans' worst fears after holding his arms upright to signal that Davis' circus shot had indeed given the Cardinal a most improbable 77-76 victory over USC on Sunday night at Maples Pavilion.
The Trojans appeared to have withstood Stanford's rally from 15 points down only seconds earlier. Forward Bennie Boatwright snagged a rebound after USC made a defensive stop and passed to McLaughlin, who dribbled the length of the court before making an over-the-shoulder layup to give USC a 76-74 lead with 1.7 seconds left.
"My teammates will tell you I'm pretty crafty with my layups," McLaughlin said. "I work on them all the time. It's a layup I make plenty of times going to the right using my right [hand] with a reverse spin. It was a tough shot, I made it."
With USC coaches furiously waving their arms to get players to run back on defense, Davis took the inbounds pass on the left side of the court and dribbled once before firing a 50-footer over the outstretched arm of Boatwright. After the ball fell through the net, Davis calmly walked toward the free-throw line before being mobbed by teammates.
A different set of emotions coursed through the Trojans.
Said McLaughlin: "It's tough but it's college basketball. Anything can happen."
Said coach Andy Enfield: "I've never lost like that before."
Said Metu: "It was pretty tough. But honestly, it never should have got to that point."
Trailing by 15 points midway through the second half, Stanford one-upped its 13-point, double-overtime comeback over UCLA three days earlier. The Cardinal (8-8, 2-1 Pac-12 Conference) out-toughed USC (11-6, 2-2) down low, forced eight turnovers in the second half after forcing only two before halftime and held the Trojans to one-for-nine shooting on three-pointers in the second half.
Metu, who led USC with 20 points on 10-for-16 shooting, said players were fully aware of what Stanford had done to the Bruins.
"That was definitely in the scouting report," Metu said.
Stanford rallied largely thanks to forward Reid Travis, who scored 29 points on 10-for-14 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Travis scored most of the Cardinal's 42 points in the paint.
"Reid Travis is a very big, strong man and sometimes you say, 'Be physical' but it's a little hard sometimes when you're outweighed by 30, 40 pounds," Enfield said. "He did a good job using his body tonight."
Said Metu: "It just comes down to toughening up down there. Sometimes there's really nothing you can do about it when the guy's catching it two feet from the basket as strong as Travis was."
Metu suggested that the officials contributed to Stanford's comeback.
"I feel like once the momentum swung the refs kind of went with the momentum and they got a lot of calls, a lot of iffy calls, and we just wanted to get the same calls down there, I feel like," Metu said. "We can't control that, we just have to keep playing."
They did just that.
"We were just in there saying that didn't really just happen," McLaughlin said referring to the locker room. "I'll just keep replaying it and it's crazy. It's a tough way to lose."
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Galen Center.
Update: The Buffaloes (10-6, 2-2 Pac-12) are coming off a home sweep of the nationally ranked Arizona schools but are 0-4 in road games this season.