USC basketball moved to 17-4 on the season with a 82-79 win over ASU, but giving up a late lead in the final minutes spoiled the night.
The lowdown: Jordan McLaughlin opened the scoring for the Trojans after being left open on an inbounds play.
Across the first five minutes of the game, USC and ASU went back and forth, with notable contributions from Jonah Mathews on a drive to the basket, Elijah Stewart hitting a three-point attempt and Nick Rakocevic slamming home to give the Trojans an 11-8 lead.
When it looked like USC might take over the game, the Sun Devils knocked down a pair of timely threes to stop the run.
Stewart took up a starring role with 12 points in the opening 10 minutes. He dove for a steal, crashed the boards for an offensive rebound which he capped with an off-balance three, then slammed home an alley-oop dunk after a McLaughlin steal all while USC built a ten-point lead.
After ASU’s Tre Holder stemmed the bleeding with a three-pointer, McLaughlin answered right back with a make from behind the arc himself.
However, back-to-back triples from Shannon Evans put the pressure back on the Trojans, cutting the lead to four. An and-one for Holder made it a one-point advantage with 3:50 left.
McLaughlin didn’t let that last long without response though, hitting a three-pointer as the shot clock expired then another to push USC’s lead back up to six.
Right after, Mathews nabbed a steal and capped his fastbreak with a layup to make it eight.
Though ASU cut that deficit in half, McLaughlin stunned the Sun Devils by banking in a halfcourt shot at the halftime buzzer.
USC led 45-38 at the break.
The second half opened with the Trojan surge once again led by Stewart. His lay up and three-pointer made the gap 12 points.
As they did in the first half, the Sun Devils pushed back, taking advantage of a Trojan scoring drought to get as close as one point.
Stewart responded with a clutch three-pointer followed by a Rakocevic putback dunk to give USC some breathing room.
Back-to-back triples by Stewart and Mathews helped extend the Trojan lead as high as 14 with three minutes to go.
It looked like USC might cruise to the finish line, but a foul on a corner three-point attempt gave ASU life. The Sun Devils followed that up with two jumpers on two Trojan turnovers to make it a three-point game with one minute left.
With USC struggling to keep the ball, ASU had two shots to tie the game on three point attempts, but missed both.
The Trojans held on for the 82-79 win.
The takeaway: Despite holding a 10-point lead with under two minutes to play, sloppy play and major mistakes put USC in a dangerous position as they attempted to close out what was a must-win game against Arizona State.
The Trojans controlled the game for most of the night, but the final sequence was evidence of their inability to hold off the Sun Devils throughout the game.
Luckily, ASU couldn’t make the most of their final opportunities and USC notched a win to bring them back to .500 in the Pac-12 standings, now 4-4 in conference.
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The win, however shaky, was critical for Andy Enfield’s squad coming off a close loss to Arizona and set to face UCLA midweek. In the tough conference slate, USC couldn’t afford to lose.
The good news is, Stewart found a hot patch against the Devils, hitting seven of 13 three-point attempts to finish with 29 points. The Trojans will hope that scoring touch will carry over against the Bruins, especially with Bennie Boatwright still sidelined.
USC’s Player of the game: Elijah Stewart; 29 points, 11/19 FGs, 7/13 3FGs, 4 rebounds, 2 assists.
Stat of the game: USC shot just three free throws, making two.
Next on tap: The Trojans will welcome UCLA to the Galen Center on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 8:00 p.m.