LOS ANGELES — When No. 21 USC announced last week that it would play a nonconference game against Pacific, it barely raised an eyebrow. Sure, add an extra game, basically a glorified scrimmage against a West Coast Conference bottom-feeder and stay fresh ahead of Saturday’s game against No. 12 UCLA.
This last-second addition to the schedule almost became an all-time unforced error by the Trojans, who had to fight and claw back from a 13-point second-half deficit to dispatch the Tigers, 74-68.
The details of the comeback are almost irrelevant. With the Tigers scoring at ease, USC (20-4) employed a full-court press to make them uncomfortable. Freshman Harrison Hornery came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers, the last of which gave USC the lead with 8:01 left, the first Trojan advantage since the 17:14 mark of the first half.
An 8-0 run started by a Drew Peterson jumper put the Trojans ahead for good. But an Alphonso Anderson 3-pointer got Pacific back within three with 37 seconds to play. Only a pair of Max Agbonkpolo free throws iced the win for USC.
But the bigger takeaway from this game for the Trojans is that their issues from the past six weeks – slow starts, inconsistent offense, playing smaller than their roster size – were not limited to Pac-12 competition, but reared up against the Tigers (7-16).
The beginning of the game had the makings of the blowout that was expected by everyone, except the Tigers, when this game was scheduled. Chevez Goodwin scored a layup on the opening possession, Pacific committed a shot-clock violation and USC soon had a 4-0 lead.
But the Trojans blinked, apparently, and suddenly Pacific had ripped off a 7-0 run. No big deal, right? Isaiah White hit a floater to stop the bleeding.
But USC failed to get back on defense following the bucket, and Pacific guard Khaleb Wilson-Rouse got behind the Trojans for a layup to force Coach Andy Enfield to call the first of two first-half timeouts.
The Tigers opened by making their first five shots, while USC’s offensive struggles from the end of Saturday’s loss to Arizona carried over back to the Galen Center, shooting 31% in the first half and missing all seven 3-point attempts.
The Trojans were without leading scorer Isaiah Mobley, who suffered a non-displaced nose fracture against Arizona and is considered day-to-day. But it took a 61.5% shooting mark in the second half to escape with a win against Pacific, which ranked 272nd in opponent field-goal percentage entering the night.
USC appeared to have a size advantage, too, but in the first half Pacific won the rebounding battle 22-15 and scored 18 points in the paint to USC’s 12.
Pacific’s lead grew as large as 12 on a Nick Blake layup. By the time the half was up, USC was staring at a 30-22 deficit.
That grew to 13 early in the second half. USC assistant coach Jay Morris stomped his foot on the court and swore loudly after the Trojans failed to cover 6-foot guard Pierre Crockrell II, who got an open look under the basket.