Hot 20 minutes gets USC a victory over Oregon State and to 20 wins

Hot 20 minutes gets USC a victory over Oregon State and to 20 wins
Oregon State's Malcolm Duvivier, center, attempts to get through the defense of USC's Darion Clark, left, and Jordan McLaughlin during the first half onWednesday. (Danny Moloshok / AP)

USC's first shot against Oregon State on Wednesday was an open three-pointer by Bennie Boatwright, and it did not go in. This was not surprising.

The Trojans entered the game having lost four of five games, swerving their season from pleasant surprise to the NCAA tournament bubble. Their offense had gone missing. USC scored below its season average in every single February game.


The problem, USC Coach Andy Enfield said, was simple: They just needed to make their open shots. If only it were that easy.

On Wednesday, it was exactly that easy. After Boatwright's miss, USC zoomed to its best offensive half of the season. By the final minute before halftime, the Galen Center crowd stood and cheered. With a 23-point lead, USC could dribble out the clock in the second half of a 81-70 win, USC's highest-scoring game in nearly a month.

The Trojans' first-half box score read as though it belonged to Stephen Curry. USC shot almost 62%. It made eight of 11 three-pointers. The Trojans had 15 assists to four turnovers.

It was 56-33 at the break, USC's highest-scoring half of the season.

"It felt like we got back to the team that won 19 games," point guard Jordan McLaughlin said.

The Trojans had lost their last two games by a combined 42 points and guard Julian Jacobs declared that USC's final two regular-season games were close to must-wins.

A loss against Oregon State, especially, could have sunk USC's season into uncertainty. Most NCAA tournament projections listed USC (20-10, 9-8 in the Pac-12 Conference) among the lowest at-large seeds in the field. It could not afford an upset loss at home.

USC probably isn't safe yet, but it has opportunity to close the regular season with a statement. It also eclipsed 20 games for the first time since 2009.

"We've put ourselves in position to be considered for" the tournament, Enfield said. "That's not our decision. But we're excited to be here. We're really excited to win 20 games."

Thursday's win provided a salve for most of what ailed USC. Freshmen Boatwright and Chimezie Metu combined to miss all 13 shots against California. Each made half of his shots against Oregon State (17-11, 8-9)

McLaughlin, who scored just nine points combined in two games last week, led USC with 17 points and nine assists Wednesday.

And Darion Clark made his first appearance since separating his shoulder a month ago. USC's downward spiral started a game after his injury. It went 2-5 without him.

Clark scored five points with three rebounds in seven minutes.

"It's a spark plug," guard Katin Reinhardt said of Clark's return.


Said Enfield: "Even in limited minutes, you see the impact he has on the game."

To start the game, though, it was Oregon State with the hot hand. The Beavers took four three-pointers to start the game. They made all of them.

Oregon State didn't miss a shot for nearly four minutes. Gary Payton II went on to lead the Beavers with 19 points.

USC soon countered with its own string of four straight three-pointers, part of a 22-5 run.

The shooting dried up in the second half — the Trojans shot 47% for the game — but by then, it didn't much matter.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter: @zhelfand