‘It was the wrong call’: USC’s March Madness dreams shattered in loss to Miami
After a season of slugfests, the set-up felt almost second nature Friday. A miserable start giving way to a furious comeback. A brutal struggle leading to stunning salvation.
The same unlikely plan seemed to be unfolding as USC’s Drew Peterson hit one three-pointer, then another, somehow dragging back the seventh-seeded Trojans from the depths. A six-point lead was erased in just 30 seconds, and USC seemed ready again to conjure the magic that made its last March run so special.
A foul call under the basket and subsequent free throws gave Miami the lead back with just three seconds remaining. With the Trojans’ season tiptoeing along its tournament cliff, the ball went back to Peterson, who took a few steps inside of the half-court line, then lifted off with two defenders leaping around him, launching one last prayer after a season that saw so many answered.
Just a few centimeters, a few measly degrees of trajectory would ultimately separate USC from a March miracle. Peterson’s shot bounced off the backboard, then the front of the rim. But the momentum was ultimately too much, as Peterson’s desperate heave careened to the court, handing USC a heartbreaking 68-66 defeat to No. 10 seed Miami that ended its NCAA tournament early.
“I thought we could have made that comeback,” said Peterson, who scored eight in the final minute to finish with 17 points. “I thought that shot had a chance. It was close.”
Instead, the Trojans stared at the basket in disbelief, almost willing their fate to change. Isaiah Mobley, now presumably on his way to the NBA after contributing 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds, stood with both hands on his head, his eyes welling with tears.
USC had spent most of the second half furiously fighting the fate it seemed to have sealed for itself during the game’s first 20 minutes. The Trojans opened in a horrific slump, making just two of 12 shots. They turned the ball over 12 times before halftime, handing it away on four straight possessions.
It was difficult to conjure a more nightmarish start. During an in-game interview just before halftime, USC coach Andy Enfield told a sideline reporter it seemed as if his team had “never played basketball before.”
“We just came out slow, a little timid at first,” said forward Chevez Goodwin, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. “I guess it’s nerves and jitters, but you can’t have that in March Madness. Second half, we just knew that it’s either we do it now or we just go out and get embarrassed. We didn’t want to go out that way.”
Instead, USC went down swinging. Mobley, who didn’t score in the first half, shook off his 0-for-6 shooting to score eight points in the first three minutes of the second half as USC flew out to 17-2 run, quickly erasing its deficit.
Freshman Reese Dixon-Waters then took over, fighting through a painful groin strain to score 14 points in the second half. Wincing through every possession, doubled over in agony during timeouts, Dixon-Waters finished with 16 and while proving without a doubt that his best days are ahead.
“He showed me he’s ready for the big time,” Enfield said of Dixon-Waters. “The spotlight was on, and he stepped up.”
As USC closed the gap after halftime, neither team led by more than five points until the final 46 seconds.
Had any number of moments swung differently, perhaps fate would’ve settled in a more favorable direction. Enfield was incensed by an out-of-bounds call that gave Miami the ball back with 2:07 remaining, just as USC had retaken the lead.
“It was the wrong call,” Enfield said. “So when you’re talking about a one-possession game, a one-point game, it’s very disappointing to lose like that.”
USC had done plenty to give away the game before then. With just a few seconds remaining, it wouldn’t help itself again.
The score was deadlocked at 66 when Miami guard Charlie Moore sliced through the lane and elevated while in traffic. Goodwin soared over top to block Moore’s shot, but Ethan Anderson committed a foul, sending Moore to the free-throw line.
He hit both free throws, leaving time enough for only a hope and a prayer.
This time, however, it just wasn’t enough.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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