No. 11 USC led for a grand total of 50 seconds against No. 6 SMU on Friday afternoon, but boy, were those 50 seconds important.
For the second straight game, the Trojans erased a double-digit deficit to advance in the NCAA tournament, erasing SMU’s 12-point first half lead and, eventually, getting to the second round of the NCAA tournament with a 66-65 win.
Bennie Boatwright gave USC their first lead of the game with 1:47 left, but just 14 seconds later, SMU responded with a three from Shake Milton to take the lead back. Elijah Stewart capped off USC’s come back with 36 seconds left on the clock, burying a three from the corner and sending the Mustangs, a team that just about everyone had advancing past No. 3 seed Baylor and into the Sweet 16, home with an upset loss.
In addition to the game-winning shot, Elijah Stewart scored 22 points, leading the way for the Trojans. Chimezie Metu and Boatwright both added 14 points in the win.
With the win, USC advanced to the second round of the tournament after playing in the First Four. Since the First Four was implemented in 2011, there has been at least one team in the second round of the tournament that played in the First Four.
SMU took control early on the back of Semi Ojeleye, who finished with 24 points and 10 boards, but USC switched to a zone in the second half that took the Mustangs totally out of what they wanted to do. It wasn’t the best zone you’ll ever see, but it sure was effective, as the Trojans head SMU to just 27 second half points.
There was some discussion about the final possession of the game for SMU. After USC missed a front-end, SMU very nearly dribbled out the entire and settled for a tough layup that Shake Milton missed. Ojeleye never touched the ball on the final possession. In hindsight, I’m sure that the SMU coaching staff wishes they used one of their three timeouts, but I’m not sure that they would have gotten a markedly better shot even with the chance to draw something up.
They got their second-best player attacking the rim, nearly finishing and potentially drawing a foul. That’s more or less what you want in that situation: