The USC men’s basketball team did not take a lead in the second half until there were 3½ minutes left to play — a one-point lead off a three-pointer by Jonah Mathews.
Oregon State took the lead back seconds later, and USC’s offense fell flat, allowing the Beavers to earn a 67-62 victory in the Trojans’ last home game of the season.
“It looked better than it was,” coach Andy Enfield said as he studied the box score during a radio interview, leaning forward in a folding chair on the court.
There were the three-point attempts that ended as airballs, the 19 personal fouls and 11 turnovers. USC’s zero made free throws. Enfield said he’s never had his team miss every foul shot in a game before.
The score was tied 7-7 in the first half when Trojans junior Nick Rakocevic committed a flagrant foul, his second of the game, forcing him to retreat to the bench. He committed five personal fouls in less than 10 minutes of playing time Saturday.
“It just completely changed the flow of the game…” Enfield said. “I’m not saying it unnerved our team, but it certainly changed our team very, very significantly, quickly.”
The loss of Rakocevic threw the team off, Enfield said, because of his aggression in the paint. After averaging 15.5 points this season, Rakocevic scored four Saturday.
“We need Nick, so when he’s not on the court, it changes the dynamic of our team,” said senior Bennie Boatwright, who scored 13 points but went five for 11 shooting, and missed three free throws. “Other guys step up, but at the end of the day, we want Nick on the court.”
But despite going three for 11 from the three-point arc and 0 for 4 at the free-throw line, the Trojans trailed the Beavers by only four at the half. USC committed six turnovers but forced seven by the Beavers, and outrebounded Oregon State 18-16 to keep the game close.
Oregon State started the second half by taking a 10-point lead in less than five minutes, which Enfield said was the only point in the game where he was disappointed with his players.
“We were very soft, defensively,” Enfield said.
Halfway through the second half, Kevin Porter Jr. stole the ball from Oregon State and darted down the court for an easy dunk that brought fans at Galen Center to their feet, shouting. After Porter landed he shimmied his shoulders, then made a jumper to keep the pressure on the Beavers, sparking a USC comeback.
A couple of minutes later, he drained a three-pointer, bringing the Trojans within four.
But the effort was too little, too late. USC’s shooting lagged, and Oregon State clung to the lead 34 minutes of the game, outrebounded USC in the second half and scored 11 points off of turnovers.
USC has three games left in the season, all away, before the Pac-12 tournament. The Trojans have an NCAA tournament berth on the line but are 2-5 on the road. They have a few more games to deliver what Enfield said his team has lacked this season — leadership.
“There’s certain guys that just need to be able to play with a more even temperament,” Enfield said, “where, whether you’re successful or you fail… you need to keep grinding it out and keep working hard… and be a leader.”
Thursday vs. UCLA, 6:00 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion, ESPN
USC faces crosstown rival UCLA (14-13) for the second time this season. The Trojans defeated the Bruins 80-67 in January, but UCLA has gone on to average 77.7 points per game, with a 5.1 rebounding margin. Kris Wilkes leads the Bruins with 17.1 points per game, while Moses Brown leads the team in rebounds.