March Madness: Wrong call costs USC in first round vs. Miami

After a season of slugfest, Friday’s setup almost felt second nature. A miserable start gives way to a furious comeback. A brutal fight leading to a breathtaking redemption.

The same unlikely plan seemed to unfold as USC’s Drew Peterson hit a three-pointer and then another, somehow pulling the Trojans back from the deep with the seventh seed. A six-point lead was erased in just 30 seconds, and USC looked poised once again to cast the magic that made their last run in March so special.

A foul under the basket and subsequent free throws put Miami back in the lead by just three seconds. As the Trojans’ season tiptoed along the tournament cliff, the ball went back to Peterson, who took a few steps inside the half-court line, then lifted off, with two defenders leaping around him and firing off a final prayer after a season so many have seen replied.

Just a few centimeters, a few measly degrees of trajectory, would ultimately separate USC from a miracle in March. Peterson’s shot ricocheted off the back wall, then the front of the rim. But the momentum was ultimately too great as Peterson’s desperate throw sped onto the court and handed USC a heartbreaking 68-66 loss to No. 10 Miami, who ended their NCAA tournament early.

“I thought we could have made that comeback,” said Peterson, who scored eight goals in the last minute to finish on 17 points. “I thought the shot had a chance. It was close.”

Instead, the Trojans stared at the basket in disbelief, almost ready to change their fortunes. Isaiah Mobley, who is now probably on his way to the NBA after 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds, stood with both hands on his head and tears in his eyes.

USC had spent most of the second half furiously fighting the fate they seemed to have sealed for themselves in the first 20 minutes of the game. The Trojans opened in a terrible slump, making just two of 12 shots. They turned the ball over 12 times before half-time and gave it away on four consecutive possessions.

It was difficult to conjure up a more nightmarish start. During an in-game interview just before halftime, USC coach Andy Enfield told a reporter on the sidelines that it seemed like his team had “never played basketball before.”

“We were slow to come out, a little shy at first,” said forward Chevez Goodwin, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. “I guess it’s jitters and jitters, but you can’t have that at March Madness. In the second half all we knew was that we either do it now or just go out and be ashamed. We didn’t want to go out like that.”

USC coach Andy Enfield responds to a referee's call during the second half against Miami.

USC coach Andy Enfield responds to a referee’s call during the second half against Miami.

(Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

Instead, USC went down swinging. Mobley, who didn’t score in the first half, shrugged off his 6-0 shooting and scored eight points in the first three minutes of the second half as USC flew to a 17-2 run and quickly erased their deficit.

Newcomer Reese Dixon-Waters then took over, fighting through a painful groin strain to score 14 points in the second half. Dixon-Waters, wincing with every possession and doubling down in pain during time-outs, finished the game at 16 and proved without a doubt that his best days were still ahead of him.

The USC bench reacts immediately after losing to Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday.

The USC bench reacts immediately after losing to Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday.

(Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

“He showed me he’s ready for the big time,” Enfield said of Dixon-Waters. “The spotlight was on and he stepped forward.”

As USC caught up after halftime, neither team led by more than five points until the final 46 seconds.

If a few moments had gone differently, fate might have taken a more favorable turn. Enfield was outraged by an out-of-bounds call that returned the ball to Miami with 2:07 left, just as USC had regained the lead.

“It was the wrong call,” Enfield said. “So if you’re talking about a one-possession game, a one-point game, it’s very disappointing to lose like that.”

USC had previously done a lot to give away the game. With only a few seconds left, it wouldn’t help itself again.

The score was stuck at 66 when Miami security guard Charlie Moore cut through the lane and was raised in traffic. Goodwin flew over the top to block Moore’s shot, but Ethan Anderson fouled it and sent Moore to the free-throw line.

He hit both free throws and gave time for hope and prayer.

But this time it just wasn’t enough. March Madness: Wrong call costs USC in first round vs. Miami

Andrew Schnitker

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