Rebuilt USC basketball program on ‘the right path’

A historic season for USC’s men’s basketball team reached its apex last week.

The Trojans pulled off another dramatic comeback, upending SMU after a game-winning 3-pointer by Elijah Stewart in the final minute to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32. Two days earlier, they had rallied from 17 points to top Providence in a tournament play-in game.

Amid a celebratory locker room at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., someone had written, “26,” on a whiteboard.

It was for a program-record 26th victory.

Through the first four seasons of Coach Andy Enfield’s tenure, USC has seen yearly improvement. It won 11 and 12 games in his first two seasons, before a breakout 21-win campaign a year ago that resulted in its first NCAA Tournament appearance in a half-decade. It again returned to the tournament this March and this time advanced past the first round.

“I feel we’re on the right path,” guard Jonah Mathews said.

As the Trojans were outlasted in a season-ending, 82-78 defeat by No. 3 seed Baylor on Sunday, their comeback attempt fell short in the final minutes.

“We showed everybody we can compete with the best of the best,” forward Chimezie Metu said, “and now it’s just a matter of everyone going back, and getting better, and coming back next year working even harder to try to get to a national championship game.”

Will the upward trajectory continue?

“Everybody comes back, we’ll be good,” point guard Jordan McLaughlin said. “We’ll be right up there.”

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

USC’s pair of victories in the NCAA Tournament were its first since 2009, as it positioned itself within striking distance of only the fifth Sweet 16 appearance in program history.

After winning only three of 21 Pac-12 road games over Enfield’s first three seasons, the Trojans won four this season and were a late-game collapse at Arizona State away from finishing above .500 on the road in conference play for the first time since the 2007-08…

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