LOS ANGELES — A chance to bolster postseason credentials fell by the wayside for the Oregon men's basketball team Thursday night, as the Ducks suffered critical breakdowns late in the game and lost at Southern California, 72-70, before 4,322 fans in the Galen Center.
The Ducks (17-9, 7-6) came into the night a half-game out of second place in the Pac-12, but failed to gain ground on the two teams tied for that spot entering this week, USC and UCLA. "We needed this one tonight," UO freshman Troy Brown Jr. said. "I feel like everyone in that locker room knows that."
How It Happened: The Ducks and Trojans went toe-to-toe all night, with Oregon leading by a point at halftime and taking a 60-59 lead on two Elijah Brown free throws with 6:48 to play. But from there, some crucial missteps by the Ducks — and big-time plays by the Trojans — tipped the scales to the home team.
After Brown's free throws, Chimezie Metu stepped through the defense for a go-ahead field goal. The Ducks turned it over on the other end, and Jonah Mathews put USC up four at 64-60 with a three-pointer. Oregon fought back into the lead with an 8-2 run that included three-pointers by MiKyle McIntosh and Troy Brown, but the Ducks turned it over on three of their next four possessions, and USC retook the lead at 70-68 on a three-pointer by Elijah Stewart.
Two missed free throws by Metu opened the door slightly for the Ducks, and Troy Brown took advantage by rebounding a McIntosh miss and tying the score at 70-70 with 16 seconds left. At the other end, Jordan McLaughlin dribbled past halfcourt and out onto the right wing, then fired a pass across the court and through the lane to a leaping Metu, who made the game-winning bucket with 1 second left.
An ineffective double-team on McLaughlin and the late turnovers haunted the Ducks, as did defensive breakdowns to open the second half. Oregon scored on its first eight possessions, but couldn't open up a gap because USC made its first nine shots of the half, the last a three-pointer by Stewart for a 49-49 tie.
"At the beginning of the second half, they found their groove," UO junior Paul White said. "A team finds their groove like that, and they're at home, it's tough."
It was McIntyre who was in the groove early, scoring on the game's first possession and grabbing an offensive rebound on Oregon's next trip before feeding Payton Pritchard for a three-pointer. Two more baskets by McIntyre gave the Ducks a 12-6 lead, and a three-pointer by Elijah Brown made it 24-19. From there, USC rallied to a 25-24 lead, but McIntosh answered with a three-pointer, and the Ducks took a lead into the break.
Who Stood Out: McIntosh made 9-of-13 attempts and finished with 23 points, a season-high for the graduate transfer. Pritchard added 17 points and had four assists with no turnovers, and Troy Brown finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.
What It Means: Oregon missed a golden opportunity to enhance its postseason credentials, both for a first-round conference tournament bye and an NCAA Tournament berth. Every chance the rest of the way thus is that much more important, beginning Saturday.
Up Next: The Ducks play at UCLA on Saturday (7:15 p.m., ESPN).
Courtesy: Rob Moseley (goducks.com)