March Madness: USC loses to Michigan State in NCAA tournament

A season spent climbing back from the abyss and scraping and scraping itself from one week to the next had given USC every reason to believe it could sidestep any setbacks that might still stand in its way. So often had it weathered slow starts or sustained slumps that comebacks seemed second nature to the Trojans, whose trainer recently described them as his best-improved in a decade.

But on Friday there were no bases to be found or contingency plans to be put in place. Months spent tempting fate finally fell to USC, which fell to Michigan State 72-62 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

For the second straight season, they eluded the answers to what plagued the Trojans at the worst possible time with their NCAA tournament lives at stake.

“That’s how the ball rolls in March sometimes,” senior guard Drew Peterson said.

That loss wasn’t a matter of a few bad bounces, however. It was a summary of all of USC’s worst tendencies this season, neatly wrapped up in a devastating loss.

The Trojans started slow again, digging an 11-point hole early. Then, after ending the first half with a tear, they settled for too many bad shots and sloppy possession in the second, shooting 11 of 32 after halftime. They also gave away the ball 11 times and gave Michigan State 16 extra points from turnovers.

Michigan State guard Tyson Walker bows to USC's Tre White during an NCAA tournament game

Michigan State guard Tyson Walker bows in front of USC’s Tre White during an NCAA tournament game March 17 in Columbus, Ohio.

(Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

It was an all-too-familiar stretch for USC. However, coach Andy Enfield didn’t seem to think that warranted a thorough off-season examination of his offensive philosophy.

“It’s hard not to shoot in time and turn the ball around,” Enfield said. “It was our boys who lost the ball. The scoring droughts are usually either you miss open shots or the guys try to do too much on their own, one on one, instead of just moving the ball and keeping their distance and cutting. I know there’s a lot of pressure on these guys. We came down the second half. It’s frustrating at times throughout the season. But for the most part our boys played right.”

It didn’t help that the top scorer ran into a wall when he was needed most. Boogie Ellis had been the engine of the Trojans’ offense for the past two months, averaging more than 22 points in his last 12 games.

His late-season outburst offered hope that USC could catch fire at the stretch, but it would be 17 minutes before USC’s senior point guard scored on Friday.

As Michigan State focused on shutting down Ellis and clogging up the fast lanes, it never found its footing. Ellis finished with just six points while shooting 3 from 12 from the field, a disappointing performance eerily reminiscent of last March when he struggled and was benched in USC’s first-round loss to Miami became.

It was hardly the way Ellis or Peterson, who scored 11 points, hoped to end their tenure as Trojans.

“I let my teammates down today,” said Ellis. “I played too fast today. I haven’t changed my pace all year. I play at high speed. But today I played a bit too fast. So that’s up to me.”

He wasn’t the only one struggling to adjust. After a week of preparing Michigan State to fire from the three-point arc, USC was confused as the Spartans spent most of their time attacking the paint.

Few teams had defended the inside better than USC this season, but with the Trojans focused on guarding Spartans at arch, Michigan State had little trouble working it inside, where it scored 32 points, among most, one team has achieved against USC this season.

“Points in color were significant,” Enfield said.

USC found an insult of its own on the inside when Joshua Morgan unexpectedly took on a goalscoring role in the first half. Morgan scored eight straight goals on four consecutive possessions, leaving the big man exhausted and barely able to stand during the ensuing time-out.

Morgan’s outburst kept USC afloat for a while, but the Trojans never found the same energy again. When Michigan State came out of the half heat and fielded seven of 11, USC went into another slump. During a four-minute goalless stretch later in half-time, the Trojans turned the ball three times in three minutes, the last of which resulted in a breaking Spartan bucket.

With Michigan State’s 15-point lead intact, the sea of ​​green and white that had taken over Nationwide Arena raged in unison.

Any hope of a comeback was soon swallowed up by the Spartans and their noisy followers. Still, Kobe Johnson tried his best to win one, knocking down consecutive threes late to reduce the lead to nine. Michigan State responded by missing three straight front ends from one-on-one free throws, giving the Trojans a glimmer of hope with two minutes remaining.

But the comebacks USC had been conjuring up all season were exhausted by that point. The Trojans missed their next four shots, finally crushed by the obstacles they had overcome so many times this season. March Madness: USC loses to Michigan State in NCAA tournament

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