The USC Trojans men’s basketball team traveled 2,200 miles to play the Providence Friars in the First Four of the 2017 NCAA Tournament on a frigid night in Dayton, Ohio. Despite one of their best starts in years for the Trojans at 14-0, once the season turned to Pac-12 Conference play USC began to struggle. Having to contend with the likes of the UCLA Bruins, the Oregon Ducks, and Arizona Wildcats, some of the best teams in the nation the Trojans limped into the Tournament as one of the last 4 teams to make it in.
Despite the shaky second half of the season, the travel, the weather, and a lengthy plane delay USC was excited to be here, and excited to play.
Last year at this time USC’s season was cut short by the Friars in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in the games final seconds. While a shot at vengeance or redemption was not a motivating factor for the Trojans the opportunity to continue their season was. At stake, an oportunity to head to Tulsa, Oklahoma to take on the SMU Mustangs in the round of 64.
Chimezie Metu, Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Bennie Boatwright, and Elijah Stewart would start for the Trojans. Rodney Bullock, Alpha Diallo, Emmitt Holt, Jalen Lindsey and Kyron Cartwright would get the nod for the Friars.
Finally it was time for the tip which the Friars won but McLaughlin made an amazing steal and took it to the other end of the floor for an easy two. The Friars would miss on their next possession and Benny Boatwright would nail a 3 on the other end. The Trojans jumped out to an early 5-0 lead in the first minute prompting Providence coach Ed Cooley to call a quick timeout.
Out of the timeout the Friars would miss another shot and Diallo would get called for a foul going for the rebound. The Trojans would take it the other way with Boatwright muscling the ball into the hoop. USC was up 7-0 before the Friars finally settled in and put points on the board. The Trojans would lead 12-7 after the first five minutes. 10 of those 12 were scored by Boatwright. For as bad as USC was in the first 5 minutes of their last game against UCLA the Trojans looked much different tonight.
Jalen Lindsey takes off:
In our players to watch article we pointed out that Jalen Lindsey is an excellent 3-point shooter and that the Trojans could struggle defending the 3 at times. The Trojans early lead was shattered when Lindsey hit a trio of 3s that briefly gave the Friars a 15-14 lead. USC would climb back in front 18-15 with 11:13 left in the first half. He then hit a 4th to bring the Friars to within 20-18 but it was clear that if USC could not find a way to contain Lindsey from behind the arc then that 3-point lead would not last. On the positive side Lindsey was really the only thing working for Providence on offense as their leading scorer Rodney Bullock was quiet at the outset.
With 7:41 left in the first half the Friars took a 21-20 lead on a bucket by Holt. Bullock would then extend that lead by following it up with a 3. The Friars led 24-20 with 7:00 minutes left in the first half. The game was unfolding largely how we expected. The Trojans had the advantage on the inside and the Friars held the advantage behind the arc.
Out of the USC timeout the Trojans could not get things turned around and the Friars continued to control the game in under a minute Providence extended their lead from 24-20 to 30-20 as the Trojans seemed to be in a funk. USC called another timeout and McLaughlin hit a three which seemed to stem the Friars momentum until Diallo threw it up to Holt who dunked it home and the Friars erupted again.
The Trojans were seemingly unable to hit easy shots inside and were still having trouble stopping the three. With a monster slam by Bullock gave the Friars a 39-26 lead with 2:17 left in the first half and the Trojans would take another timeout.
Out of the timeout Alpha Diallo would snag a steal and take it in for a dunk at the other end. With 1:14 Boatwright would only get the front end of a 1 and 1 but Diallo followed it up with yet another 3 for Providence extending their lead 44-27 with 42.5 seconds left in the first half. Metu would convert both free throws on a 1 and 1 cutting the Friars lead to 44-29 at the half. The Trojans shot an abysmal 10-29 from the field in the first half.
The second half started off much in the same way the first half ended with USC looking shaky on offense and the Friars getting just enough points to maintain the lead.
Then the Trojans started to heat up. Jonah Matthews would hit a 3 and get fouled. Matthews would complete the 4-point play and McLaughlin would follow it up with a 3 of his own cutting the lead down to 46-37 before Bullock extended the lead back to 11.
A pair of Boatwright free throws would draw the Trojans back to within 10 with approximately 13 minutes left in the game but now the Trojans were locked into a war of attrition with the Friars when they needed to be gaining ground. After a timeout on the floor with 11:59 left USC trailed 43-52 and were running out of time to get back into this game and have a shot at keeping their season alive.
Nick Rakocevic began to find a rhythm around the 11 minute mark beginning to take over on the inside. Rakocevic’s play brought USC to within 5 trailing 55-50 with 9:56 left in the half and Providence needing to take a timeout to make adjustments to the emergence of Rakocevic. Out of the timeout both teams would score 5 making it a 60-55 game with 7:45 left.
Out of the timeout Rakocevic would hit a pair of free throws brining the Trojans to within 3. A Friars turnover at the other end gave USC the ball down 60-57. McLaughlin would hit a jumper the Trojans would get another turnover and Chimezie Metu would hit a jumper to give the Trojans a 61-60. After another bucket by Boatwright USC now lead 63-60 with 5:51 forcing another timeout by Providence.
Out of the timeout Providence would pick up a quick two from Holt but Jordan McLaughlin would return the favor with a drive and score of his own. After the Friars missed on the other end, Metu made a beautiful cut for a monster slam. USC would pick up a steal before a timeout on the floor.
The Trojans led 67-62 with 3:11 left in the second half and had possession. Now was the time for the Trojans to turn the pressure up.
USC took their time and capitalized on their opportunities and the Trojans lead 71-66 with under a minute to go. Both teams would trade baskets and with 18.9 left to go in the game USC lead 73-69 and had possession. McLaughlin missed a couple of free throws that could have been incredibly helpful at this moment.
Out of the Providence timeout the Trojans beat the press and Metu got sent to the line shooting two. He would hit both and the Trojans lead by 6. The Friars would pick up 2 more points but burned too much time.
USC wins 75-71 and advance to the next round to play SMU in Tulsa on Friday the 17th at 12:10pm pt on TruTv.