Cougars rally to beat Trojans 43-38

LOS ANGELES — Washington State’s extended stay in Southern California figures to be far more enjoyable with a victory under its belt.

Brock Motum scored 16 of his 27 points in the second half and the Cougars withstood a late rally to beat Southern California 43-38 on Saturday.

“At the end of the day, the guys persevered,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said.

Motum hit 12 of 21 shots as the Cougars (15-15, 7-11 Pac-12) held a 30-10 scoring advantage in the paint and 36-25 rebounding edge in picking up just their second conference road win.

Instead of flying back to Pullman, Wash., the Cougars will remain in Los Angeles in advance of their conference tournament opener against Oregon State on Wednesday. Washington State has won both meetings this season with the Beavers, a team Bone isn’t taking lightly.

“They have as much talent as any team in the conference,” he said.

Maurice Jones scored 11 points to lead USC (6-25, 1-17), which closed the regular season with a ninth straight loss to sit at the bottom of the league standings.

Three USC starters were lost with season-ending injuries in what has been a challenging campaign for coach Kevin O’Neill, in his third year with the program.

“It has been a very difficult season for the players, but I saw a lot of positives,” O’Neill said. “As unexcited about what just happened this season, I’m very excited about the journey ahead.”

The Trojans trailed by 17 points when they came alive late. Alexis Moore capped a 16-2 run with a corner 3-pointer to pull the Trojans within 41-38 with 1:57 remaining.

Washington State went without a basket for the final 9:09 of the contest, but still managed to win by five.

“Give our defense a lot of credit,” Motum said. “We were able to close out the game. We got some stops.”

USC had a chance to tie but Greg Allen’s 3-pointer from the wing came up short and bounced out of bounds. The Trojans were forced to foul and Reggie Moore hit a pair of free throws for the final margin.

USC has at least one more game to play, drawing crosstown rival UCLA in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.

“UCLA is playing the best they have all year,” O’Neill said. “If they’re on their game, it’ll be difficult to beat them.”

The Trojans had no answer for Motum. The 6-foot-10 center scored the Cougars’ first 13 points of the second half while hitting all six of his shots, giving him more points than USC had as a team.

Everything was falling for Motum during the 13-5 run that pushed the lead to 34-19. During one sequence, Motum circled on the way to the basket, was knocked off balance and managed to toss the ball in with an awkward scoop as he fell to the floor.

No other Washington State player had more than six points.

“Without his scoring, we don’t win the game,” Bone said. “Nobody else was efficient at scoring the ball.”

USC went scoreless for more than seven minutes to begin the game. The Trojans missed their first seven shots before Jones finally hit a 3-pointer to end the drought.

Jones had the Trojans’ first seven points before another player scored, when Moore hit a corner 3-pointer with 5:49 left in the half. Jones had nine points at halftime, while the rest of the Trojans shot a combined 2 of 15.

Eric Strangis was honored at midcourt prior to the game as part of Senior Day. Strangis, a walk-on guard, is the lone senior on USC’s roster.

With a healthy nucleus set to return, O’Neill is already focusing on the brighter days ahead.

“There’s going to be lots of healing that will have to be done to rebound from a six-win season. That’ll be the challenge,” he said. “You can’t lose this much and not feel it. We’ll be a different team with a different tactic and strategy next year.”

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