The March Madness magic that saw USC make a run to the Elite Eight last year wasn’t around this year.
Despite some late-game heroics from senior guard Drew Peterson, seventh-seed USC fell to tenth-seed Miami 68-66.
The Hurricanes led by 7 points with 44 seconds left after a back-and-forth half that had nine lead changes. Enter Peterson.
After hitting a three point shot off an assist by junior guard Ethan Anderson, Peterson forced a Miami turnover and scored another 3-pointer to bring the game within one point. Peterson then scored a layup to tie the game with 14 seconds.
The March Madness magic felt within reach for the Trojans despite their earlier struggles.
“Thankfully, my teammates found me in some great spots, so I hit a few shots, but obviously, it was too little, too late,” said Peterson in a postgame press conference. “We all really thought we could make that second half comeback.”
Miami redshirt senior guard Charlie Moore handled the ball for the Hurricanes in the waning seconds of the game, drawing a foul from Anderson with three seconds remaining. Moore made both free throws, and USC needed a miracle.
Peterson found space several feet behind the three-point line, but his shot banked in and out as the Trojans found themselves out of the NCAA Tournament and into the offseason.
“I thought that shot had a chance; it was close,” Peterson said.
Miami led by 11 points at halftime, thanks to an explosive performance by sophomore guard Isaiah Wong and an abundance of USC turnovers. The Hurricanes had just one turnover at the half, while USC had 12. Miami also had an impressive 12 steals for the game.
Head Coach Andy Enfield, who recently extended his contract until 2027 with USC, expressed his disappointment with the team’s effort in the first half.
“It is frustrating, as a team and a coaching staff, when you know your players aren’t performing as well as they could,” Enfield said. “But they came out in the second half and did a great job.”
Peterson took accountability for USC’s first half offensive woes.
“They were going to pressure us,” Peterson said. “That’s on me for not helping stabilize that, and we kind of just let it get out of control. As lead guards, me and [junior guard Boogie Ellis] didn’t do well enough with handling the pressure.”
According to redshirt senior forward Chevez Goodwin, the high pressure environment could also be to blame for USC’s uncharacteristically poor first half performance. The Trojans had a season-low 20 points in the first half.
Anderson led the Trojans to a strong second half start, scoring the first bucket of the half and moving the ball around effectively. Junior forward Isaiah Mobley got involved late, scoring his first three points of the game off of an assist from Anderson.
Wong scored 22 points for the Hurricanes and fouled out with around two minutes left in the game. He took advantage of the Trojans’ lackluster first half defense, scoring from the paint and behind the free throw line. Wong was 8-9 from the charity stripe.
Miami’s ability to rebound kept the Trojans in the game. USC had 38 boards, while Miami had 26. The Hurricanes were also ice cold from three, only making 1-for-14 attempts.
Freshman guard Reese Dixon-Waters scored a career-high 16 points off the bench, adding two rebounds and an assist. Despite a groin injury earlier in the week, Dixon-Waters played 28 minutes.
“The pain was definitely there, especially after my fall,” Dixon-Waters said. “But I feel like I need to be there for the team and just get through it and play … I’ll push through it for any team, especially this one.”
As USC may lose some key players — such as Mobley, Goodwin and Peterson — to graduation or the NBA Draft, Peterson said that Dixon-Waters could prove a potential leader for USC’s team next year.
“I couldn’t speak more highly about [Dixon-Waters]. He’s one of the hardest workers I know,” Peterson said. “It’s good for him to step up in such a huge game.”
Despite his team’s early exit from the NCAA Tournament, Enfield had high praise for his players as the team scored a total of 46 points in the second half.
“They did a great job when the pressure was on. I’m very proud of them,” Enfield said. “In the biggest stage, they fought, and they executed extremely well until the last possession defensively.”