The same defense that allowed USC to rally from a nine-point deficit, to clamp down on San Diego State late in a close, tight game, was the same defense that was unable to get one last stop when it was needed the most by the Trojans.
USC wound up having a gaping hole in its defense, allowing Xavier Thames to drive the length of the court to score the game-winning layup with 1.8 seconds left, sending San Diego State to a 56-54 victory at Viejas Arena.
Back-to-back three-pointers had given the Trojans hope, pulling them to a tie.
But just when it looked as though the Trojans would force overtime, they instead lost their second straight game, falling to 1-2.
“That was a tough loss,” USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said. “I’m proud of how we played. We fought hard.”
His team had trailed, 54-45, with 2:46 left, but the Trojans didn’t fold when all looked so bad for them.
“We just stayed together,” said point guard Maurice Jones, who had 10 of his 15 points in the second half. “We never really lost hope in the game because we’ve been in that situation, like, previously before.”
Garrett Jackson (13 points) made consecutive three-pointers, pulling the Trojans to within 54-51.
USC kept up the defensive pressure, getting the ball back again on a Jones steal with 1:07 left.
Later, Jones made a three-pointer from about 30 feet out, tying the score at 54-54 with 7.5 seconds left.
The ball banked in off the backboard, but Jones admitted he didn’t call “bank.”
“I just knew it was going in,” he said.
Now it was going to be up to the Trojans’ defense, something they pride themselves on doing, something they figured they would do with so little time left, something they figured would allow them to send the game into overtime.
Instead, their defense let them down, allowing Thames to coast in for a layup.
O’Neill said younger center Dewayne Dedmon missed “a switch on a pick-and-roll high on the floor.”
“Then we gave up the layup, which is unforgivable,” O’Neill said. “Credit them. They did a good job. They finished the game. But our guys fought hard, had an opportunity to win. We put ourselves in position to win, at least get it to overtime. And it just didn’t work out for us.”
When it was over, the Trojans saw that they had held the Aztecs (4-1) to 39.2% shooting, 17.6% from three-point range.
They had held Chase Tapley, who entered the game averaging 21.8 points, to just six points on two-for-seven shooting, one for five from three-point range.
They had turned the ball over just 11 times.
But USC’s defense just didn’t hold up when the Trojans had to stop San Diego State and Thames (12 points).
“It’s a surprise that we let him do that because that’s not our type of defense,” Jones said. “But, again, we are a young team and they treated us like a young team. They beat us because we are young and that showed.”