Boogie Ellis’ buzzer-beater rescues No. 17 USC from upset to Washington State

USC guard Boogie Ellis falls to the court after taking a shot in front of Washington State guard Michael Flowers.
USC guard Boogie Ellis, right, falls to the court after taking a three-point shot in front of Washington State guard Michael Flowers during the first half of the Trojans’ 62-60 win Sunday at the Galen Center.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Such little had gone according to plan through this maddening mess of a Sunday matinee, from its copious scoring slumps to the umpteen opportunities blown by both teams, but 39 minutes and 40 seconds of slogging through one of its stranger games in recent memory had still left USC with Boogie Ellis dribbling near midcourt, and the final seconds ticking down in a tied game the Trojans had, for most of the afternoon, tried their best to squander.

So many other chances had already slipped from their grasp Sunday that each of those final seconds passed in anxious succession, the whole of Galen Center holding its breath. Even Ellis had missed a baseline jumper just 30 seconds earlier to possibly take the lead. But after a strange, sloppy afternoon, all No. 17 USC needed was for one final shot to fall, hopefully erasing the mostly unpleasant affair that came before it.

That final shot, too, seemed destined to miss when Ellis lifted off, fading away at the free-throw line with little space to operate between Washington State defenders. It hit off the back iron before falling fortuitously forward into the hoop, allowing USC (23-4, 12-4 Pac-12) to escape amid the mess with a 62-60 victory over Washington State (14-12, 7-8).


Chevez Goodwin lead the way with 24 points as No. 17 USC defeated Washington 79-69 on Thursday at Galen Center.

Feb. 17, 2022

“We were fortunate to pull this one out,” said USC coach Andy Enfield.

For Ellis, it wasn’t so much good fortune as intestinal fortitude. It was the particular kind of big moment he’d talked all season of having at USC, one that would help cement his place in his new program. The transfer from Memphis had been a steadying hand for the Trojans all season, but no performance was arguably more important this season than the one he put together Sunday.

Ellis scored a season-high 21 points, capping the heroic performance with his first buzzer-beater. It couldn’t have come at a better time for USC, which now faces three of the Pac-12’s top four teams over its final four regular-season games.

“We live for those moments,” Ellis said of his shot.

But before that final moment of elation came many others that might have otherwise done the Trojans in on any normal afternoon.

Twice, USC went six or more minutes without a field goal. Its usual dominance in the paint disappeared. Its transition game was nonexistent. USC was outworked on the glass, 41-34, and outdone behind the arc, where Washington State hit 15 three-pointers, more than any team had hit against USC all season.

Those stat lines, sans context, would seemingly assure USC of defeat. But the rest of the box score told a slightly different story, one even Enfield joked was hard to believe.


“This,” he said, “is a unique box score.”

Los Angeles, CA - February 20: USC guard Boogie Ellis, #0, right, who had 21 points in the game.
USC guard Boogie Ellis drives past Washington State guard Tyrell Roberts in the second half of USC’s 60-62 win Sunday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

While Washington State nearly buried USC in a barrage of three-pointers, it struggled to do much of anything inside the paint, where the Trojans defense has been best all season. The Cougars hit just five of their 32 attempts inside the arc, while knocking down three times as many shots from long range.

The plan had been to keep Washington State from beating USC deep. Instead, the Trojans went the much more difficult route, completely shutting the Cougars out of the paint.

USC didn’t do much better inside. But even as Washington State pulled in 16 offensive rebounds, it scored on just two of those second-chance opportunities.

“The main thing was to stop them from threes,” said forward Max Agbonkpolo, who contributed 10 points off the bench. “It’s tough when they’re hot like that.”

USC guard Drew Peterson makes a leaping pass in front of Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye.
USC guard Drew Peterson, center, makes a leaping pass in front of Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye during the first half Sunday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Both teams fell victim to prolonged cold stretches, the worst of which came for USC just after the second half began. Drew Peterson, who added 17 points, hit a three-pointer to open the half, lending some hope that USC would burst out of its slump and barrel past the Cougars soon enough.

But for the next seven minutes, the Trojans didn’t hit a single shot from the field as Washington State climbed out to an eight-point lead.

“We always say our defense has to carry us when we have stretches like that offensively,” Enfield said.

The defense would clamp down just enough, as the Cougars hit just one shot in the final six minutes — and only one of their final six three-point attempts.

For Ellis, it was all the wiggle room he would need to help USC escape.