The teams changed, as did the cause of defeat — sometimes it was an offensive implosion, a failure to rebound or a big shot — but in all of them, the Trojans had found a way to lose a close Pac-12 game. In conference games decided by five points or fewer, USC had been 0-7.
This time, USC was up by one and had just whiffed on two defensive rebounds when McKissic tucked in front of Julian Jacobs. He could see the basket, and he pushed off toward the rim.
But this time, Nikola Jovanovic peeled off his man on the weak side and met McKissic. He swatted the ball away.
That's what it took for the Trojans to finally win a tight game, and they did it at the right time. USC's come-from-behind, 67-64 win in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament Wednesday was the program's first tournament win since conference expansion.
The win sets up this season's third matchup against UCLA, in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The Bruins easily won both previous games, but USC's win over the Sun Devils hurts UCLA's NCAA tournament chances because another win over the Trojans will not heavily affect its Ratings Percentage Index.
USC had trailed for more than 30 minutes Wednesday and was down 14 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining. But the Trojans ended the game on a 21-4 run.
With fewer than five minutes left, Elijah Stewart hit a three-point shot to cut the Sun Devils' lead to five. Then Jovanovic made two free throws, Jacobs knifed to the basket and scored, Jovanovic and Darion Clark made layups, and suddenly, USC had the lead. The Trojans scored on six consecutive possessions before Arizona State (17-15) took a timeout.
"We had a 15-point lead," McKissic said in a postgame news conference. "I don't know how to explain how it evaporated so quickly."
Next to him, teammate Bo Barnes, who stared off at some point above the cameras, looked shocked.
They can blame Stewart for their pain. The freshman scored 27 points, a career high, on eight-for-14 shooting. His six three-pointers also were a career high.
Jacobs added 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. It has taken some time, but USC now has a core of young, promising players, especially if point guard Jordan McLaughlin, an All-Pac-12 freshman-team selection, can recover from shoulder surgery.
"When the Pac-12 started, when we first went on the road trip to Colorado and Utah, Elijah had no clue about anything in the Pac-12," USC Coach Andy Enfield said, adding that Stewart wasn't the only one. "And he played like it."
The result wasn't pretty. USC (12-19) won just three Pac-12 games, but, Enfield said, "We have never let those losses define who we are or where our program is going."
Enfield said he has never felt better about the future of USC basketball.
"How many wins that will be, I have no idea," he said. "That's on them. They have to go out and produce. But this year was certainly a growing year for us. I'm a much better basketball coach now because of this experience. And I think our players are a lot better now because of what they've gone through."