Aaron Fuller, seen here earlier in the season against Cal, had the game-winning basket. - USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Fuller's only basket came with six seconds left to put USC (8-11, 3-3) on top of a back-and-forth battle with Oregon State (10-8, 0-5) Saturday night at the Galen Center. Byron Wesley's 19 points helped USC interim head coach Bob Cantu secure his first career win, 69-68.
-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment(s): Back-and-forth finish. In the game's final 6:35, neither team had more than a three point lead. In the final 3:09, there wasn't a lead bigger than one point. With 45 seconds left, Roberto Nelson hit a jumper from the elbow fading to his right to put Oregon State up 66-65.
It looked like USC gave the game away when JT Terrell's post entry pass to Omar Oraby went out of bounds with 30 seconds to go, but the Beavers gave the gift right back when Eric Moreland threw the ball away on the inbound. Eric Wise collected Moreland's errant pass and put it in with 26.4 seconds remaining.
Joe Burton put Oregon State back on top with 12 seconds on the clock. Instead of calling a timeout, Bob Cantu let his team play. The Trojans pushed the ball ahead of Oregon State's pressure. Terrell got into the lane just inside the left elbow where he was triple teamed. Rather than forcing a shot, he found Aaron Fuller on the baseline. Fuller finished at the rim with his right hand -- his only basket of the game.
Oregon State had one final chance. The Beavers inbounded right in front of their bench with 3.1 seconds. Nelson got the ball to Devon Collier a step above the right block. Collier turned and tried to go into the lane and shoot over Eric Wise, but when he made his move, Terrell cut him off and slapped the ball. Collier maintained possession, but couldn't get the ball to the rim. Wise got a piece of Collier's shot and the final horn sounded before anyone could corral the loose ball.
"I didn't think there was time to pass and my man wasn't in any kind of shot position," Terrell said. "He had his back to me, so when he turned, I just went for the ball and tried to grab it and pull it out. I got enough of the ball that Eric was able to get a block."
Player of the game: Byron Wesley. In the post-game press conference, Wesley said the two-point loss to No. 21 Oregon was eating at him all day Friday. He tried to make sure he wouldn't have that feeling after Saturday night's game with a strong first half.
In the first half, Byron Wesley's aggressiveness allowed USC to pull ahead. Wesley attacked the basket and did a good job of getting to the rim and shooting short floaters when he couldn't. He scored 12 first-half points on his way to a 19-point game on 7 for 13 shooting. He also made five of his six free throws, contributed three rebounds and had three assists.
Most Spectacular Play: Putback dunk at the buzzer. James Blasczyk had played only two minutes in the last four games entering Saturday evening's game. But with Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon in foul trouble in the first half, interim head coach Bob Cantu called on Blasczyk and he produced the play of the night.
USC inbounded the ball with 5.5 seconds remaining in the half after a made free throw by Oregon State. Byron Wesley's floater from the left side came off the glass hard. Blasczyk grabbed the ball in his right hand and slammed it home just before the buzzer sounded.
Unsung Hero: JT Terrell. Terrell didn't have as many points as Wesley or Wise, who had 18. Terrell didn't have a great shooting night. He was only 4 of 13 from the field. He also had three turnovers, but it was his unselfish play on the last two possessions that helped win the game for USC.
When Terrell crossed midcourt with under 10 seconds to go and a little bit of space, I thought there was no way he wasn't shooting. Oregon State evidently thought the same because three defenders surrounded him when he got to the free throw line. Instead of taking a bad shot, Terrell dished the ball off to Fuller, who scored the game-winning basket.
After a timeout, Terrell's defensive help allowed Wise to get a piece of Collier's shot and keep the Beavers from getting a last second buzzer beater.
"Step It Up:" Handle the pressure. Jio Fontan had one of his worst performances as a college basketball player. USC's primary ballhandler turned the ball over ten times, including seven in the second half. Fontan struggled with Oregon State's extended 1-3-1 zone trap and the length of the Beavers, particularly 6-foot-10 Eric Moreland, who was at the top of the zone for the majority of the time.
"There's a lot of pressure on the point guard," Cantu said, "especially when you play a game like tonight where it's a 1-3-1 [zone defense] and everybody is locked in on him."
But Cantu showed his faith in Fontan, playing him down the stretch. He only had one turnover in the final 5:03 after subbing in for the final time.
"Jio's our leader; he's our captain," Cantu said. "He turned it over a little bit tonight, but I'm not discouraged by that at all."
Key stat: 49.1 percent. Entering the game, USC actually led the Pac-12 in shooting during the conference schedule with a 45.2 shooting percentage. That number will only rise after the Trojans continued their strong shooting, finishing at 49.1 percent Saturday night. Wesley and Wise combined to make 14 of their 25 shots while Dedmon, Oraby and Fontan all finished above 50 percent on limited shots.
Quote of the Night: USC interim head coach Bob Cantu:
"I'm proud the guys stayed together. We probably weren't prepared for the 1-3-1. We turned it over too much, but at the end of the day we found a way to get a win."
Sideline Strategy: The Bob Cantu era is still a work in progress. He's making some different moves than Kevin O'Neill had made, most noticeably giving players a longer leash and attempting to push the ball as much as possible. Cantu also has rescued Ari Stewart from the dungeon at the end of bench. Stewart played 10 ineffective minutes against Oregon State, finishing one for four with two turnovers, but he did score his first points since November.
Cantu also tried starting Omar Oraby in order to buy Dewayne Dedmon some extra minutes so that he could stay out of foul trouble. It was an odd strategy that I've never seen before. Different doesn't necessarily mean bad, but this strategy backfired. Despite coming off the bench, Dedmon was in foul trouble for almost the entire game and fouled out with more than five minutes remaining.
Oraby got shuffled into the starting lineup, but was largely missing down the stretch as Cantu went with Fuller the majority of the time after Dedmon fouled out. Cantu said the coaching staff made the decision because of Fuller's defensive quickness. With Oregon State running a lot of pick-and-roll offense, USC was switching ball screens and Cantu didn't want Oraby dragged out to the perimeter defending guards.
In the first half, Oraby and Dedmon both picked up two fouls. Cantu went to recently seldom used Blasczyk. He played eight minutes in the game, which was more than JB had played in the last five games combined. Chass Bryan again only sparingly saw the court. He played five minutes as Cantu relied heavily on his wing starters (Fontan, Terrell, Wesley and Wise all had 34+ minutes). For the second game in a row, freshman Brendyn Taylor did not play. Renaldo Woolridge also registered a DNP.
Where They Stand: After splitting each of their first three conference weekends, the Trojans are now 3-3 in Pac-12 play, putting them in sixth place. The Trojans need to be splitting on the road and sweeping at home, if they want to get a strong seed in the conference tournament. Without a strong seed, winning the conference tournament -- likely the only way USC makes the national tournament -- becomes an even more improbably task.
USC takes to the road next week when it travels to Tempe for a matchup with Arizona State on Thursday night at 7:30 pm PST. The game is scheduled to be televised on the Pac-12 Network.