Seeing the ball in Jordan McLaughlin's hands any time brings a smile to Southern California coach Andy Enfield's face, and especially when the game's on the line.
McLaughlin scored the Trojans' last six points, making six consecutive free throws, to help hold off Oregon for a 75-70 victory on Thursday night.
“He steadies us on every play of every game,” Enfield said. “He's the best point guard in the Pac-12 and one of the top point guards in the United States, so to me he's the best.”
Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright had 18 points each for USC (14-6, 5-2 Pac-12 Conference), which snapped a 14-game losing streak against the Ducks (12-7, 2-4) that dated to 2009. McLaughlin finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
It also was the first win for the Trojans in Eugene in eight years.
“We brought it up, the little things we talk about,” McLaughlin said of the losing streak, “but we want to go out and win every game. We were able to come out with a big one tonight.”
USC closed the game on a 14-5 run over the final five minutes. McLaughlin put the Trojans ahead 71-68 with two free throws and iced it with four more in the last 23 seconds.
“A lot of people fold under pressure, but one of the reasons I came to this university was to help rebuild this program and bring it to where it is now,” McLaughlin said. “I love those moments.”
Payton Pritchard led Oregon with 18 points, and Paul White had 14. MiKyle McIntosh added a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Ducks trailed 69-68 when McIntosh made a strong drive, but slipped under the basket for a turnover with 40.2 seconds left. McLaughlin's first two of six free throws followed moments later as Oregon never recovered.
“MiKyle tried to get the ball to the basket and fell down, and I don't know what you can say about that,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “It was a strong drive and he just lost his footing.”
USC won the rebounding battle 36-26 and finished 26 of 59 from the field for 44.1 percent. The Ducks were 26 of 54 for 48.1 percent and 11 of 11 at the foul line.
The Trojans missed their first eight shots but didn't flinch, hitting their next seven during a 14-0 run to build an early 10-point lead. Oregon came back behind White's 10 consecutive points off the bench to trail 36-35 at the half.
Altman said his team was victimized by two stretches of poor defense, including that 14-point spurt, which made the difference for USC.
“You're battling, but you give up 19 real easy ones and it makes it a little hard to overcome,” Altman said.
Both Enfield and McLaughlin noted that save for a buzzer-beater loss at Stanford on a halfcourt shot, USC would be sitting atop the Pac-12 standings and riding a six-game winning streak. Now, with his players healthy and his rotation set, Enfield said, “we're playing good basketball.”
Oregon, meanwhile, is headed in the opposite direction, though Pritchard suggest that all the Ducks needed after their third loss in four games was to get on a hot streak.
Altman, for one, wasn't buying.
“We just need to worry about UCLA,” Altman said. “Hot streak? We just need to play better and worry about Saturday.”
Oregon needs a win against UCLA on Saturday for its third Pac-12 split of the season if it hopes to improve its flagging RPI and become relevant in the NCAA Tournament conversation after last year's Final Four run.
USC moved within a half-game of the Pac-12 lead by ending another long losing streak to a conference foe. The Trojans snapped an eight-game skid against Utah on Sunday.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Altman was denied his 200th victory in his eighth season as Oregon's coach after his Ducks fell to 1-6 when they don't outrebound their opponent.
Troy Brown, projected as a possible lottery pick in some NBA mock drafts after his freshman year at Oregon, bounced back from his two poorest offensive performances of the season against Arizona State and Arizona with 12 points and five assists.
Jonah Mathews had 11 points off the bench for the Trojans, following his 17-point effort in their win over Utah on Sunday.
HE SAID IT
The loss was Oregon's third since its 46-game home winning streak came to an end in December. It was the 13th time in 64 games that a Pac-12 team won at Matthew Knight Arena since it opened in 2011.
“Dana Altman does a tremendous job,” Enfield said, “so any time you can beat a team that has such a home-court advantage, it's a credit to our players for playing tough on the defensive end and then making shots when we had to.”