Going this deep into the night, with shots continually falling off the rim and passes finding their way into the other team’s hands, showed USC’s grit.
It also exacerbated the Trojans’ agony.
USC had chances to win in regulation and overtime against No. 12 Oregon on Thursday night at Matthew Knight Arena before some blunders led to double overtime, where the Ducks thoroughly outclassed their counterparts on the way to a 79-70 victory that knocked the Trojans out of first place in the Pac-12 Conference.
The final 11/2 minutes of regulation will probably replay themselves in every Trojans’ nightmare for the foreseeable future. They blew a four-point lead that improbably came after they had trailed by as many as 11 in the second half.
“You’ve got to take care of the ball,” USC coach Andy Enfield said after his team committed 18 turnovers while having its three-game winning streak snapped. “Some were ill-timed passes that went to the other guys. We just have to make the right basketball play. Give them credit, they’re a good defensive team.”
USC guard Jonah Mathews hit a coldblooded three-pointer with the shot clock ticking down to give his team a 62-58 lead with 1:24 left in regulation. The Trojans (15-4 overall, 4-2 Pac-12) were still in excellent position to win after C.J. Walker’s driving layup pulled the Ducks within 62-60 with 64 seconds remaining.
But USC guard Ethan Anderson’s driving layup bounced off the rim and the Trojans’ two big men fell down going for the rebound. Oregon’s Payton Pritchard tied the score on his own driving layup with 26 seconds left.
USC’s implosion reached epic proportions when Oregon’s Chris Duarte tipped the inbounds pass for a steal, but Trojans forward Onyeka Okongwu blocked Will Richardson’s jumper at the buzzer to preserve the tie and send the game into overtime.
Both teams had a chance to prevail in the final minute of overtime, but Mathews missed a three-pointer and Pritchard missed a step-back jumper at the buzzer.
The second overtime was all Ducks. It started with USC guard Daniel Utomi committing a turnover and Oregon (16-4, 5-2) building a quick four-point lead thanks to free throws. Duarte extended the advantage with a three-pointer off a pass from Pritchard that gave the Ducks a 74-68 lead with 2:59 left.
The Trojans weren’t done making silly mistakes, Anderson’s lazy pass to Nick Rakocevic on the perimeter was stolen by Duarte for a layup that ended any chance of another comeback. USC shot 33.9% in addition to its sloppy play that allowed the Ducks to generate 14 steals, not exactly a winning formula against a ranked team.
Frustration appeared to boil over afterward, with one USC staffer exiting the locker room while yelling, “Tell your teammates! You need to own that …” before completing the sentence with an expletive.
The Trojans lost on a night that Okongwu was a singular force with 23 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks and Mathews added 13 points. It didn’t help that Anderson and Rakocevic combined to make two of 13 shots and guard Elijah Weaver committed five turnovers.
Duarte collected 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight steals for Oregon and Pritchard added 24 points and seven assists, the latter becoming first player in Pac-12 history with 1,500 points, 600 assists and 500 rebounds in his career.
The game was one extended highlight show for Pritchard. He had just crossed over Mathews like a traffic cone early in the second half on the way to a layup in transition when the public-address announcer said it all in only three words.
“Wow, Payton Pritchard,” he said.
It was only the start of a lengthy Ducks run initiated by Pritchard. He generated a steal that led to another basket before knocking the ball away from Trojans guard Kyle Sturdivant in the backcourt and throwing an alley-oop pass to Duarte for a monstrous dunk.
Just like that, a game that had been tied was tilting heavily in the Ducks’ direction.
Pritchard’s lob to Duarte completed a 10-0 surge for Oregon and forced Enfield to call a timeout as fans waved their arms along to the theme from “Animal House” during the ensuing celebration.
Things would only get crazier from there, USC wiping out a massive deficit for the second consecutive game after having come back from 21 down against Stanford last week to force overtime.
This time, the free basketball did not produce a worthwhile ending for the Trojans.