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USC squanders Destiny Littleton’s late-game heroics in NCAA tournament loss

USC's Destiny Littleton, left, and Rayah Marshall react to a missed scoring opportunity in overtime of a 62-57 loss.
USC’s Destiny Littleton, left, and Rayah Marshall react to a missed scoring opportunity in overtime of a 62-57 loss to South Dakota State in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Friday night.
(Matt Gentry / Associated Press)
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Destiny Littleton’s game-tying three-pointer with seven seconds left in regulation gave USC’s women’s basketball team extra life.

But the Trojans squandered it. USC will have to wait another year for a chance at its first NCAA tournament victory since 2006.

Despite a record effort from Rayah Marshall, the eighth-seeded Trojans were ousted in the first round of the NCAA tournament by No. 9 South Dakota State, losing 62-57 in overtime at Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum on Friday night.

USC can’t overcome an off game from star Boogie Ellis and falls to Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

March 17, 2023

“Credit South Dakota State,” second-year USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “They are a really good team. We knew that. They are poised and experienced and we tried to make it really hard for them, and I thought when they needed to, they made the winning plays. I’m really proud. I’m proud of our team and I’m proud of the people in the locker room. The journey we went on was an exceptional one. We wish it were longer.”

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The Trojans (21-10) held the Jackrabbits (29-5) to their fourth-lowest scoring total of the season, but USC’s defensive efforts weren’t enough. South Dakota State has now won 22 straight games and will face host and No. 1 seed Virginia Tech on Sunday.

In addition to her double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds, Marshall blocked seven shots, breaking USC’s single-season record for blocks. The mark was set in the 1992-93 season by Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie, who had 95. Marshall finished this season, her sophomore campaign, with 98.

“For me, I just like to come and compete,” Marshall said. “I feel like when I’m blocking shots on the defensive end, I’m sparking my team full of energy. Definitely going to have to brag to Lisa a little bit about that.”

Littleton scored 18 points and Kadi Sissoko added 10 for USC.

South Dakota State was powered by two-time Summit League Player of the Year Myah Selland, who ended with 29 points and nine rebounds. Paige Meyer chipped in 16 points.

“Shoot, to me she’s a pro. She scores at all three levels,” Gottlieb said of Selland. “Their system and their offense makes it really hard. You can’t really double her right because they will kick out for threes. She is constantly moving.”

USC and South Dakota State were evenly matched, but the Trojans lost the rebounding battle by six, missed five free throws, and shot 31% from the floor.

While putting USC in position for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2014, coach Lindsay Gottlieb is also adjusting to life as a mother of two.

The Trojans built an early advantage by opening the game with a 12-2 run. South Dakota State — which entered with the nation’s 10th-best scoring offense at 79.4 points per game — shot just two of 12 from the floor in the first quarter.

South Dakota State chipped away at that deficit in the second quarter, and led by as many as seven points in the third.

After falling behind, USC put together a 9-2 run in the fourth quarter and the two sides swapped leads before Littleton’s timely shot sent the game into an extra period. Selland started overtime by sparking a 9-2 run to give the Jackrabbits a cushion.

USC will lose at least a pair of starters this offseason in Littleton and Sissoko, who have exhausted their eligibility. But No. 1 overall recruit JuJu Watkins will be arriving next season.

“Obviously, we don’t want to be out in the first round, but USC has not been here in a very long time,” Littleton said. “So, that was my No. 1 goal coming here, to get USC back into the NCAA tournament, and we checked that off the list.”

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