A team that began the season No. 10 in the country but never lived up to that ranking saw its disappointing season come to an end on Monday night by losing at home to Western Kentucky in the second round of the NIT.
The 79-75 loss put the Trojans’ final record at 24-12, two wins shy of matching last year’s school record. That team reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, an event the current squad felt it deserved to play in but did not receive an at-large bid despite finishing second in the Pac-12 during the regular season and reaching the conference tourney final.
Top-seeded USC led 40-39 at halftime and was up 1 entering the fourth quarter but horrible free throw shooting kept it from ever gaining separation on Western Kentucky. The Trojans were 8 of 19 from the foul line compared to 16 of 17 for the Hilltoppers.
USC at the free-throw line: 8-19
USC from 3-point range: 9-22
— Joey Kaufman (@joeyrkaufman) March 20, 2018
USC actually went 9 of 24 from three, way off on a pair of deep shots in the final 26 seconds.
Senior Elijah Stewart did not start but scored a team-high 20 points, making 4 of 7 three-pointers, senior Jordan McLaughlin had 14 points and 13 assists, giving him 280 for the season to post the second-highest total in Pac-12 history.
USC’s 2017-18 season began with controversy before a game was played, as assistant coach Tony Bland was arrested as part of an FBI bribery investigation. Sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton was also implicated and was held out all season, eventually withdrawing from school.
A February knee injury to junior forward Bennie Boatwright thinned what before the season was supposed to be an ultra-deep lineup, then after USC was snubbed by the NCAA tournament junior forward Chimezie Metu declined to participate in the NIT.
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