TEMPE, Ariz. - Southern California’s first 36 minutes on the basketball court were mostly forgettable on Feb. 3.
Considering the way the series has gone on Arizona State’s court in recent years, they weren’t particularly important anyway.
Boogie Ellis scored 21 points, including five free throws in the final minute, to lift No. 19 USC over Arizona State 58-53 and help the Trojans keep pace in the Pac-12 race.
The last 12 games between these teams in Tempe have been decided by 10 points or less. Several of them have come down to the buzzer. This one was tight until the final minute, when Ellis took over on offense and pushed the Trojans to a victory.
"You just put three or four minutes on the clock, put a tie score on the board, and we’ll play from there," USC coach Andy Enfield said. "That’s just the way it’s been. We’re fortunate to win this game."
The Trojans (19-3, 9-3 Pac-12) have won two in a row and five of their last six. The Sun Devils have lost four straight. Both teams struggled shooting until the final minutes, when they traded baskets in a white-knuckle finish.
Isaiah Mobley made a 3-pointer with 1:57 left to put USC up 49-48 but Arizona State (6-13, 2-7) responded with Jalen Graham’s layup while getting fouled. He made the free throw to put the Sun Devils up 51-49.
Mobley’s tough basket in the post tied it 51-all with a minute left and Ellis made a pair of free throws to give USC a 53-51 lead with 46 seconds left. Ellis added three more free throws over the next few possessions and then added an exclamation point with a breakaway dunk just before the buzzer.
"We knew we’d hit big shots when we needed it," Ellis said. "Overall, just trying to get the ball down low to our big guys, try to get to the rim and draw fouls."
USC shot 25 free throws compared to Arizona State’s eight. Mobley finished with 12 points for the Trojans. Drew Peterson had six points and 13 rebounds.
Arizona State took its first lead when Kimani Lawrence’s layup made it 28-27 with 17:12 remaining. The Sun Devils pushed their advantage to 40-32 with about 11 minutes left.
The Sun Devils were led by Graham’s 19 points. Lawrence added 14. Arizona State shot just 3 of 21 from 3-point range.
"It was there for us to take," coach Bobby Hurley said. "We did our work on the defensive end but we just didn’t get enough offense when they shifted to a zone."
USC jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first four minutes. The Trojans extended their advantage to 14-2 before suddenly going cold, missing nine straight shots in a scoreless streak that lasted nearly six minutes.
"We started out well," Enfield said. "Then we stopped sharing the basketball, we had too many turnovers and took some tough shots. They played really good defense, they were very active."
That allowed Arizona State to claw back into the game, but an inefficient offense kept the Sun Devils from taking the lead. USC took a 26-24 edge into halftime.
USC shot just 27% before the break while Arizona State shot 26%.
USC has to be happy to overcome its worst offensive performance of the season. Ellis was big in the final minutes.
Arizona State was competitive — especially on defense — but the lack of offense continues to be a problem. The Sun Devils came into the game with the worst offense in the Pac-12 and haven’t scored more than 56 points over the past three games.
USC: Travels to face No. 7 Arizona on Saturday.
Arizona State: Hosts No. 3 UCLA on Saturday.
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