After a season of slugfests, the setup felt almost second nature by now. A miserable start giving way to a furious comeback. A brutal struggle leading to stunning salvation.
The same stunning plan seemed to be unfolding as USC’s Drew Peterson knocked down one three-pointer, then another, dragging the seventh-seeded Trojans back from the depths. A six-point lead was erased in just 30 seconds, as USC seemed ready again to conjure the magic that made its last March run so special.
But a questionable foul call would give Miami the lead back with three seconds. Peterson took a few steps inside of half-court, then lifted off, launching one last deep prayer after a season of answered ones.
It hit the backboard, then the front of the rim, before it fell to the court, leaving No. 7 USC with a heartbreaking 68-66 defeat to No. 10 seed Miami that it’ll likely carry with it all offseason.
USC had plenty of chances in spite of itself. It opened the game in a horrific slump and turned the ball over 17 times. Still, as Peterson’s prayer soared through the air, the Trojans had a chance.
It had one thanks to 17 points from Peterson and a gutsy performance from freshman Reese Dixon-Waters, who fought through a painful groin strain to score 16 points, 14 of which came in the second half.
It was difficult to dream up a more nightmarish start for USC’s offense, which struggled over the two weeks leading up the tournament. Unable to exploit its advantage inside, USC struggled to find any semblance of rhythm early, opening the game with a three-minute scoreless stretch.
On defense, USC periodically lost its focus, allowing Miami guard Isaiah Wong to score the Hurricanes’ first 13 points. It clanked open jumpers, shooting just two of 12 in the game’s first eight minutes. It threw errant passes, at one point turning the ball over on four straight possessions.
The turnover issues were all too familiar for a team that had given the ball away at a frustrating clip over the season’s final stretch. By halftime, the Trojans already had 12 turnovers, a symptom of an offense that was completely out of sorts.
But as USC returned from the locker room, down 11, a completely different team appeared to have taken its place.
The Trojans flew out to a 17-2 run, matching their entire first-half output in the first eight minutes of the second.
After missing all six of his shots before the half, Isaiah Mobley came out ready to prove a point, scoring eight points in the first three minutes of the second. Dixon-Waters followed with his own blazing run, pouring in 12 points over the next seven minutes.
What seemed initially like it might turn into a Miami runaway instead came down to one last prayer. It was the Hurricanes, however, that got the answer they hoped for.