USC falls to ASU after turnover-fueled second half
Jack Harris (LA Times) — Andy Enfield put hands on his head and dropped his gaze to the floor.
The USC coach couldn’t bear to watch his team’s latest giveaway, an ill-advised Quinton Adlesh pass, turn into a breakaway Arizona State dunk midway through Saturday’s second half.
He couldn’t bear to watch the Sun Devil crowd around him, kept so quiet by his squad earlier in the night, erupt at the sight of two more seemingly free points.
He couldn’t bear to watch another road game, one that felt important for a USC squad suddenly staring down its first three-game losing streak of the season, slip through his team’s fingers.
USC’s 66-64 defeat to Arizona State wasn’t cemented until the final minute, when Sun Devils guard Remy Martin hit a game-winning jump shot with 16.2 seconds remaining. But Enfield, his players, and almost everybody else inside Desert Financial Arena could see it coming as the Trojans’ second-half performance came apart.
“We’re a good team, but we have inconsistencies in some of the things we do,” Enfield said, holding a stat sheet that revealed the ugliest number from his team’s third-straight loss: 24 turnovers, including 16 in the second half.
“You’ve got to try and break the press and score out of it,” Enfield continued. “Twenty-four turnovers is just too many.”
Early on, the Trojans (17-7, 6-5 Pac-12) had control.
Jonah Mathews began his season-high 22-point performance with a blistering shooting barrage. The 6-foot-3 guard opened the scoring with a jumper from the paint. Minutes later, he drained a three-pointer in transition that prompted Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley to burn a timeout. Mathews connected from deep three more times by the intermission, including a contested crowd-silencing triple moments before the break.
When the Sun Devils (15-8, 6-4) opened the second half on a 10-4 run, Mathews came through with another bucket from downtown that extended USC’s edge to seven with 16 minutes on the clock.
For a fleeting moment, it felt like the Trojans’ lead was almost insurmountable.
Then, in a turnover-fueled flash, Arizona State surmounted it.
A Nick Rakocevic giveaway led to a three-pointer from Rob Edwards, who moments later pickpocketed USC guard Ethan Anderson and pulled up for another triple that gave Arizona State its first lead. Then came Adlesh’s intercepted pass, which Martin turned into an easy throwdown that stretched the Sun Devils’ edge to 56-52 lead.
USC’s defense responded, holding Arizona State without a field goal for more than 11 minutes after Martin’s dunk. That allowed Daniel Utomi (15 points, seven rebounds) to spark an 11-2 USC run, momentarily restoring the Trojans’ control of the game.
It didn’t last.
Up 64-61 with 2:20 remaining, an Anderson inbounds pass was picked off by Taeshon Cherry, who fed Martin for a three-point attempt. Martin’s shot was no good, but officials whistled Anderson for a foul. Three free throws later, Martin tied it.
With 1:03 remaining, Anderson missed two free throws with the score still tied at 64-64. That set the stage for Martin to bury the game-winner. The junior from Chatsworth came around a high screen, lifted off from around 18 feet, and watched his shot circle the rim almost three times before finally falling through.
“We made a mistake,” Enfield said. “We went over that the last two days, about how to play that play. We weren’t supposed to switch. Then he rolled it around the rim.”
USC couldn’t get a clean shot away in the final moments (Enfield also contended that Mathews, who launched the last-second three-point attempt, was fouled) and trudged off the court silently, their once-solid NCAA tournament credentials looking somewhat shaky.
After handling the first half of their conference slate well, they suffered their first Pac-12 weekend sweep of the season. More importantly, the momentum that had carried them to only their second 17-4 start this century has started to wane. Saturday night’s stumble did little to stop it.
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