No. 11 seed USC basketball overcame another double-digit deficit, but came just short of completing the upset against No. 3 seed Baylor, who took the win 82-78.
The lowdown: Bennie Boatwright opened the scoring in Tulsa with a jumper, then extended his quick start tendency with two three-pointers in the opening minutes.
Triples by Baylor’s King McClure had the game even at 8-8 at the first media time out while the Bears’ rebounding advantage of 8-1 after six minutes helped them build a 18-10 lead.
Elijah Stewart stopped a 15-2 scoring run for the Bears by sinking his first three-pointer but Baylor maintained their advantage through the midway point of the half.
Before the four-minute mark, De’Anthony Melton stole the basketball to set up a Jordan McLaughlin fastbreak before Baylor responded with a McLure triple and a dunk by Johnathan Motley pushed it to 31-23.
Stewart and McLure traded threes as the Bears built their lead to 10 points with two minutes remaining.
That’s when Chimezie Metu came to life, working in the paint to draw USC back within five by the end of the first half.
The Trojans came out of the half with a spark. Boatwright knocked down a three-pointer and Metu hit a jumper to tie the game at 36 less than two minutes in.
Baylor’s Ishmail Wainright hit a triple to restore the lead only for Melton to respond with a long-range three. However, a pair of Motley jumpers gave the Bears a two-possession lead once more.
After the Bears pushed back into the lead, Stewart picked things up, hitting a triple and then completing a three-point play under the basket to give USC a four-point advantage at 56-52.
Once again Baylor tied things back up and Metu slammed down a dunk in response, but the two teams stayed close through the five-minute mark.
Baylor leapt back into the lead when Stewart fouled Manu Lecomte on a made three-point basket. The point guard scored eight unanswered points, his first of the game, to put the Bears ahead 73-67 with just under four minutes left.
With under two minutes to go, Baylor held a six point advantage, but Boatwright drew a charge on Motley, who fouled out.
Metu spun inside and finished the lay up to make it 76-72. Then he was fouled after a rebound on the other end, hitting both free throws to draw within two.
However, the big man made a mistake, taking Lecomte’s bank shot off the backboard for a goal tend with 28 seconds left.
With the deficit at four and seconds remaining, Metu completed a quick layup to keep it close, but Wainright and Maston hit free throws to end USC’s hopes.
The Trojans fell to Baylor, 82-78.
The takeaway: It was a fun and wild ride for USC in the NCAA Tournament, but in the end, they came up just short in a bid for a Sweet 16 place.
Though they once again erased a double-digit deficit, the Trojans never let Baylor get as far ahead as they let Providence or SMU. When they did make their move, they closed the gap early enough to allow the Bears to regroup and go on a late run of their own.
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Though Metu made the critical error on the late goaltend, he was immense for the Trojans, leading the team with 26 points, hitting 6-of-6 free throws and adding five rebounds in what was one of his finest outings in cardinal and gold.
Boatwright finished with 16 while Stewart had 12 and McLaughlin tallied 11 points and six assists.
In the end, USC fought hard and pushed the No. 3 seed to the brink in their third game in five days. However, the Bears won the rebounding battle 35 to 23 and avoided the late-game mistakes which usually accompany upsets.
Stat of the game: Lecomte scored all 12 of his points in the final four minutes and 39 seconds of the game.
Next on tap: The Trojans 2016-17 season is over after a school-record 26 wins and two victories in the NCAA Tournament.