Drew Peterson plays through the pain as USC narrowly defeats Arizona State

USC's Drew Peterson guards an Arizona State player.
Arizona State guard Frankie Collins tries to drive past USC guard Drew Peterson during the first half of the Trojans’ 68-65 win Saturday at Galen Center.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

His back still ached, the tightness building over the second half of a long season, down the homestretch of a long college career.

Drew Peterson was not his usually limber self. That much was certain Saturday night. The senior’s stiff back had slowed him Thursday and nearly sidelined him for USC’s regular-season finale. A report from earlier in the day had gone so far as to declare him out on account of the injury. But when the arena lights went out and the lineups were announced, the fifth-year senior jogged gingerly from his place on the bench, as if his presence had never been in doubt.

This would be Peterson’s last game at Galen Center, after all — an arena that, on more than a few occasions, had bent to his will.


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Saturday would not, however, be one of those nights, even as USC managed to slip past Arizona State 68-65.

Peterson would still gut it out — an apt conclusion to a USC career spent fitting in wherever he was needed, without complaint. He’d tried everything Saturday morning to fight through the soreness, from chiropractic massage to an IV drip. But until just before tipoff, everyone at USC had expected him to sit.

“For him to deal with the pain and go out there, play 31 minutes and go out there and help us win,” USC coach Andy Enfield said, “he showed a lot of heart and toughness.”

“He’s a warrior,” teammate Boogie Ellis added.

By late Saturday night, Peterson was mostly just sore. He’d still fought through rebounds, still drove to the hoop, still whipped bullet passes to the wing, the usual trademarks of his versatile playing style. But the stiffness had stolen the explosive spark that bound them together, leaving Peterson to battle through every possession.

USC's Boogie Ellis jumps for the basket.
USC guard Boogie Ellis puts up a shot between Arizona State guards Desmond Cambridge Jr. and Frankie Collins during the first half. Ellis finished with 28 points.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

“I didn’t think I was going to play when I woke up this morning,” Peterson admitted. “But with the stakes of the game, being the last home game, I really tried to do everything to get on the floor.”


He’d finish with nine points, five rebounds and three assists in his finale, a full, yet modest line that wouldn’t quite tell the story of his swan song at USC.

His fellow senior would pick up the slack, like he so often has. Ellis may have spent one fewer year here than Peterson, but over his two seasons as a Trojan, he’d emerged as the unquestioned other half of the team’s heartbeat.

Never had that been more true than this last month, with Ellis in the midst of the best stretch of his college career and USC in desperate need of a difference-maker. The point guard continued his torrid stretch Saturday, scoring 28 points to once again lead USC.

Both seniors would leave a legacy at USC that should play for years on an endless loop in the school’s highlight reels. Together, they would hit some of the biggest shots in the biggest of moments. But their influence would extend far beyond those brief blips, with both leaving indelible marks on a basketball program on the rise.

“We’re always led by Boogie and Drew,” Enfield said.

When Arizona State lifted for a last-second shot Saturday, it was Peterson whose hand would extend in the shooter’s face.

That finish would be too close for comfort, similar to the sloppy note on which the game started for USC. The Trojans went five minutes without scoring, during which they turned the ball over five times. They added three more over the next 13 minutes, throwing errant passes, dribbling off their feet, making ill-fated decisions.

But like they had so many times before this season, USC settled in. It clamped down on defense, forcing Arizona State to miss its last dozen shots before the half. With the Sun Devils struggling, the Trojans coasted into halftime on a 15-2 run.


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They’d have to sweat it out from there, even as Arizona State shot just 29% for the game. In a swirl of late missteps from USC, the Sun Devils closed the gap to a single point in the final minute. Arizona State failed to force overtime when DJ Horne missed a three-point shot at the buzzer.

The narrow win should presumably secure the Trojans a spot on the safe side of the NCAA tournament bubble, taking some of the pressure off next week’s trip to Las Vegas. USC was already locked into the No. 3 seed for the conference tournament. It’ll face the winner of sixth-seeded Arizona State vs. 11th-seeded Oregon State on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. PST.

How far it goes from there may very well depend on how far its pair of seniors can carry them. Ailing back and all.