Jordan McLaughlin sparks USC’s big rally in 79-72 win over Colorado
USC forward Chimezie Metu goes up and gets a block on Colorado guard Josh Fortune during a game Feb. 17 at the Galen Center.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
USC guard Julian Jacobs drives to the basket during the second half of the Trojans’ 79-72 victory over the Colorado Buffaloes.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
USC guard Julian Jacobs celebrates on the sideline after the Trojans pulled ahead of Colorado late in the second half during a game Feb. 17 at Galen Center.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Julian Jacobs (12) celebrates with teammates Elijah Stewar (30), and Nikola Jovanovic (32) during USC’s 79-72 victory over Colorado on Feb. 17 at the Galen Center.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Colorado guard George King goes up for a basket against USC forward Nikola Jovanovic during a game Feb. 17 at the Galen Center.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
USC forward Katin Reinhardt loses control of the ball during the first half of a game against Colorado at Galen Center on Feb. 17.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
USC forward Nikola Jovanovic gets his hand in front of Colorado guard Eli Stalzer during a game Feb. 17 at the Galen Center.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Jordan McLaughlin spun down the sideline and pounded his chest.
For much of USC’s game against Colorado on Wednesday, the Trojans had trailed big, and for the first time in this surprising season, USC looked vulnerable.
It had lost two games in a row. A third loss loomed.
Then McLaughlin came alive. He took over the final minutes of the game, turning a sluggish, uninspired effort into a decisive victory.
The Trojans won, 79-72, at the Galen Center.
At one point late, McLaughlin scored 11 points in a row. It helped erase a 15-point second-half deficit, and sparked the Trojans on a 30-5 run.
Afterward, USC Coach Andy Enfield emerged from the locker room unusually quickly.
“After my halftime speech, they didn’t want to hear me again,” Enfield said. “I just said ‘good win’ and got out of there.”
USC (19-7, 8-5 in the Pac-12 Conference) needed the victory to avoid its first prolonged losing streak of the season. The Trojans’ longest skid has been two games. They haven’t lost at home through 15 games.
USC’s start has afforded it wiggle room for an NCAA tournament bid — it was a ranked team last week — but its remaining schedule offers little relief.
“I don’t know if it was a must-win, but it was a very important win,” Enfield said.
USC still must solve its offensive woes, which spanned last week’s games at Arizona State and Arizona and continued into the first half of Wednesday’s game. Colorado (19-8, 8-6) led 37-29 at halftime, just the fourth time all season USC has scored fewer than 30 points in a half.
Colorado outrebounded USC 37-21. In the first seven minutes of the second half, USC grabbed one rebound.
Not that there were many opportunities. Colorado missed just two shots in that span. Twice, the Buffaloes converted long shots as the shot clock expired, one from George King and the next from Josh Fortune.
The latter was part of a spurt that put Colorado up by 15 points with less than nine minutes left.
Enfield said he needed to try something new. He opted for a full-court press and switched to a zone. It worked. USC’s defense found a spark. Colorado couldn’t find the basket.
“If nothing else is working, you have to try something,” Enfield said.
USC chipped away. McLaughlin and guard Julian Jacobs drew hard to the basket and got to the free-throw line. McLaughlin scored a career-high 25 points with five assists. Jacobs scored 17 with five steals.
“We just didn’t want to lose,” Jacobs said.
Afterward, the two guards were asked if there is a better backcourt in college basketball. “We’ll let you guys decide,” Jacobs said.
A McLaughlin free throw capped a 10-0 run, leaving USC down by two.
Thirty seconds later, McLaughlin spun in the lane and banked the ball off the glass to tie the score.
The next possession, with less than three minutes remaining, McLaughlin made a three-pointer. USC had its first lead in 30 minutes.
The run coincided with forward Malik Martin’s entrance into the game. Martin has played sparingly this season, but has been needed to fill the void left by forward Darion Clark’s shoulder injury. He played just five minutes and scored four points Wednesday, but his energy was contagious.
After USC’s win was all but secured, Enfield sidled up to Martin on the bench. “You’re my MVP of this game,” Enfield said.
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand
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